A report by Reuters, based on information supplied by unnamed sources, claims Tesla and Contemporary Amperex Technology Company (CATL)* are in the “advanced stages of talks” that may lead to Tesla using cobalt-free battery cells developed by the Chinese battery company. Cobalt is expensive — around $33,500 a ton — and much of it is sourced from operations that may exploit child labor. Tesla already chooses to not get cobalt from the most notorious sources, and Elon Musk has indicated he would like to drastically reduce the amount of cobalt used in Tesla batteries. In fact, the company uses far less of it today than it did a few years ago.
Those sources tell Reuters the two companies have been talking for more than a year and the talks could result in an agreement soon. Tesla and CATL both declined to comment on the story. In addition to avoiding the toxicity and environmental concerns associated with using cobalt, the latest lithium-iron-phosphate batteries from CATL are said to be cheaper than nickel-cobalt-aluminum (NCA) or nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) batteries by a “double digit percent,” according to the sources.
To boost the density and safety of its LFP batteries, CATL has been working on cell-to-pack technology, the sources told Reuters. They also indicated Tesla has no plans to stop using its NCA battery technology for its automobiles.
LFP batteries are typically less energy dense than NMC batteries, which means the company would have to use more of them to get the same range in its vehicles — unless there has been a big advancement in that territory. That also means they would take up more space (if range was kept the same). Where would Tesla find room in its cars for larger, heavier battery packs?
We know that Tesla is at the cutting edge in battery technology and knows far more than it is sharing publicly. Elon has indicated the company is constantly talking to everyone involved in battery research at a significant level anywhere in the world. Is this one of those cases that actually warrants a change in commercial products?
Lastly, is Maxwell Technologies, the battery and supercapitor startup Tesla bought last year, involved somehow? CleanTechnica contributors Chanan Bos and Max Holland will be along shortly to give you their take on this story. See: “Tesla Shanghai Model 3 May Go Cobalt-Free Using CATL’s LFP Cells — Diving Deeper.”
*Disclosure: CATL was a sponsor of our newest report, Electric Car Drivers: Demands, Desires & Dreams.
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