Tesla outlined its goal for responsible Cobalt sourcing in its latest 2019 Impact Report, released on June 8, 2020.
The automaker plans to eventually produce a zero-cobalt battery for its vehicles and energy products, in its bid to source metals in a responsible fashion that maintains not only the integrity of the company but also the human rights of those involved in the sourcing of raw materials.
“Tesla’s batteries use nickel-rich cathode materials which contain less cobalt than other widely use cathode chemistries in the industry with our ultimate goal being to eliminate cobalt completely from our cells,” notes Tesla in its Impact Report.
Tesla’s lithium-ion batteries utilize an NCA Cathode makeup, comprised of a Nickel-Cobalt-Aluminum structure. The combination of the three metals creates a battery that has longevity and stability throughout the life cycle of the vehicle. Cobalt supplies a battery with high-rate performance and enhances cycle stability when exposed to high levels of heat, according to ScienceMag.
Cobalt, while controversial, is a crucial element in lithium-ion batteries, at least for now. While Tesla continues to work toward the omittance of the element from its batteries, the challenge is finding another metal that can replace Cobalt while maintaining the integrity of the battery.
Under a section titled “Supply Chain Introduction: Responsible Material Sourcing,” Tesla addresses and details its “Supplier Code of Conduct” and “Human Rights and Conflict Minerals Policy.” The two documents outline the company’s expectations for its suppliers and partners and require all members of the Tesla supply chain to uphold responsible and integrity-focused techniques when acquiring Cobalt.
“Tesla is committed to making working conditions in our supply chain safe and humane, ensuring that workers are treated with respect and dignity and that manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible,” the report indicates.
Tesla’s plans to utilize zero-Cobalt batteries are certainly in the company’s future plans. However, while the element is still included in the current battery makeup, responsible sourcing is among Tesla’s main concerns.
Suppliers involved in sourcing Cobalt for the electric automaker are required and expected to follow Tesla’s Code of Business Conduct and Ethics. Although many of the company’s direct suppliers obtain some raw materials through sub-contractors, Tesla conducts due diligence practices that maintain the safety and respect of workers everywhere.
Tesla has even gone as far as removing some risks from its supply chain. The report explicitly mentions areas notorious for child labor, especially in the field of Cobalt mining. “Because Tesla recognizes the higher risks of human rights issues within cobalt supply chains, particularly for child labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have made a significant effort to establish processes to remove these risks from our supply chain,” the company wrote.
The eventual phasing out of Cobalt from the batteries Tesla uses requires an extreme process of due diligence, now. Cobalt has been one of the primary sources of criticism for non-EV supporters. In particular, the issue of child labor has driven as much skepticism from critics as nearly any other topic. However, the regular auditing and due diligence have helped Tesla maintain responsible labor and material acquisition practices, effectively eliminating any criticism for utilizing Cobalt at the current time.
Currently, the company’s cells use nickel-rich cathode materials and contain less Cobalt than any other widely used cathode chemistries in the EV sector. Eventually, zero-Cobalt batteries will be introduced into Tesla’s EVs Still, a controversial subject like the sourcing of the metal requires a tedious and specific amount of verification through a series of annual third-party audits.
The transparency that Tesla provides throughout the Impact Report’s Cobalt Sourcing section shows a responsible process of mining the metal. Tesla states that it has mapped significant areas of the Cobalt supply chain, and ethics concerning sourcing the metal will continue to improve over time.
Tesla’s 2019 Impact Report is available below.