Tesla’s CATL deal may pave the way for zero-cobalt Model 3 batteries

Tesla Made-In-China Model 3 (Source: Tesla China via Ray4Tesla on Twitter)

Tesla is reportedly in advanced talks to use cobalt-free batteries by Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL) in cars produced at Giga Shanghai in China.

People knowledgeable about the matter have stated that the US electric car maker has been in talks with CATL for more than a year to supply lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries for its MIC Model 3 that are produced in Giga Shanghai. These batteries are cheaper by “double-digit percent” than the batteries currently used in its vehicles, Reuters reported.

Both companies did not comment about the said negotiations but if this report holds water, this will be the first time for Tesla to include LFP batteries in its vehicle lineup. Such adoption will help lower the cost of production and will allow Tesla to adjust its strategy to establish a strong presence in the biggest automotive market in the world.

According to the people with knowledge of the matter, Tesla will not stop using nickel-cobalt-aluminum (NCA) batteries in its vehicles and it’s not yet clear to what extent Tesla will use the LFP batteries. Nickel-cobalt-aluminum or nickel-manganese-cobalt (NCM) batteries are the go-to batteries of electric vehicle manufacturers because of their higher density, which allows EVs to have ample range on a single charge.

Tesla focuses on NCA with lower cobalt content than NCM batteries but the possible deal with CATL can help Tesla and Elon Musk to meet the CEO’s statement in 2018 that the carmaker will completely cut the use of cobalt for its vehicle batteries. Cobalt costs around $33,500 a ton, the most expensive component of EV batteries, and is often linked to controversial mining practices. Such practices form the Achilles heel of battery production as mining cobalt is associated with human rights issues such as child labor, among other ethical issues.

If Tesla takes the step to zero-cobalt batteries, it could lead the charge toward even greener vehicles. As more and more countries attempt to shift to electric vehicles, Tesla’s focus on batteries is proven right and if these talks with CATL materialize, legacy carmakers trying to catch up with the Silicon Valley carmaker can only end up even further behind.

Cobalt, a mineral that’s rarer than lithium comes as a byproduct of mining nickel or copper, is practically the safe element in the cathode of the batteries that help it retain its capacity long-term. According to Reuters‘ sources for its recent report, CATL has been working on its cell-to-pack technology to improve the density and safety of its LFP batteries.

Tesla’s CATL deal may pave the way for zero-cobalt Model 3 batteries
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