If you are into batteries, you probably know that cobalt is its key component. Nonetheless, it's the most expensive element found in a battery and are very risky to mine. Its role is to serve as the cathode material for Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, making it a significant ingredient for electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing.
Seems like this is about to come to an end – at least for Tesla, based on a tweet by CEO Elon Musk. We quote, "We use less than 3% cobalt in our batteries & will use none in next-gen." So, does this mean that there would be less expensive Tesla models in the future? How possible could his "will use none" claim be? Is a cobalt-free battery safe? There are a lot of questions to throw at Musk's latest statement so we did a bit of research to find out.
If we're going to trace back, battery-makers began cutting down cobalt content on batteries when the prices for this mineral started to dramatically grow as demand increases. In a report published by Reuters, Tesla's battery supplier Panasonic announced their plans in developing a cobalt-free battery in March 2018.
Currently, the Tesla Model 3 is equipped with NCA (nickel, cobalt, and aluminum) batteries. These are batteries with very low cobalt content while having a high energy density. This could mean that Tesla and Panasonic might be nearing their goal of zeroing cobalt in their batteries. But, that wouldn't stop there.
Cobalt is used as a cathode in batteries. We can go deeper into science in explaining why cobalt is a critical element to storing electric charge in batteries, but that would be cumbersome. To simplify the terms, this specific element performs better than any metal ions in charging a battery. This is the main reason why more than 50% of cobalt mined on earth goes to companies that manufacture products that uses batteries like cellular phones, laptops, and EVs.
How safe is it to take out cobalt? Benchmark Mineral Intelligence analyst Caspar Rawles, in an interview done by The Verge, stated that the absence of cobalt in batteries will require more nickel. This means that the cells have the risk of overheating, as they can no longer cool themselves. This could result to combustion – a threat to the battery and the user.
Again, Elon Musk seems to be a man of his words. If this claim is already on its way, it's a matter of how it could affect the prices of its models. Taking out cobalt in their batteries may mean there's a substitute to it and at this point, we do not know if this could potentially add to the cars’ value.
Source: The Verge