Tesla’s cobalt-free efforts are being closely watched by LG Chem, Samsung ahead of Battery Day

Tesla Gigafactory Nevada battery cell production line (Credit: Super Factories)

It appears that it is not only the electric vehicle community that is eagerly anticipating Tesla’s upcoming Battery Day event. Considering the company’s place in the EV movement, as well as its efforts in pursuing a cobalt-free solution for batteries, industry leaders like Samsung and LG Chem are reportedly watching Tesla and its battery announcements closely.

Battery Day has been mentioned by Elon Musk multiple times in the past, and last month, the company noted that the highly-anticipated event will be held on September 22. The CEO has informed analysts that Battery Day will include a “big reveal” of developments in Tesla’s battery efforts. The effects of such developments on the battery supply chain are also expected to be discussed. 

Tesla has kept details of Battery Day secret, though industry officials have noted that details on new cobalt-free batteries will be revealed at the upcoming event. Tesla has been working on reducing its batteries’ cobalt content for years, as evidenced by a study from a German firm that determined that Model 3 batteries have 75% less cobalt than the cells used by companies like Volkswagen. In the second-quarter earnings call, Elon Musk noted that eventually, cobalt will be phased out completely. 

EV battery makers such as LG Chem and Samsung have mostly favored nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) or nickel cobalt aluminum (NCA) batteries over cobalt-free lithium iron phosphate (LFP) chemistry due to their higher energy density, which allows vehicles to travel longer distances. LFP batteries are more environmentally-friendly and cost-effective, but they tend to be limited when it comes to range. This status quo seems poised to change with Battery Day, at least if speculations prove accurate. 

Reports have emerged stating that CATL, one of Tesla’s battery partners in China, has begun supplying LPF batteries for the electric car maker’s locally-produced Model 3. Elon Musk emphasized this in the Q2 2020 earnings call, when he stated that Tesla will be boosting volume production in China of LFP battery packs for the Model 3. By the end of July, Panasonic, Tesla’s longtime battery partner, informed Reuters that it will be commercializing a cobalt-free battery in two to three years for the electric car maker. 

Amidst these reports, industry leaders like LG Chem and Samsung are now facing what could very well be a crossroads with their battery strategy. If Tesla has come up with a way to solve the shortcomings of LFP batteries, there is a good chance that the battery industry could also start moving away from cobalt. Tesla, after all, is one of the world’s leading electric car maker, and its EV and energy storage business are both undergoing an aggressive expansion. Cobalt is also a controversial material to begin with, thanks to questionable mining practices in areas such as the Congo.

Tesla Gigafactory Nevada battery cell production line (Credit: Super Factories)

That being said, LG Chem has stated that it still believes that NMC chemistry will remain the mainstream in the global market due to its energy density advantages. “Though we are producing LFP batteries too, these have their shortcomings in energy density and weight. We believe NCM will remain the mainstream in the global EV battery market,” the company stated during its second-quarter conference call. 

Samsung SDI was on the same page, stating that it will be focusing on NCA technology. Citing an industry official who requested anonymity, The Korea Times noted that Samsung is paying close attention to what Tesla will be announcing and unveiling on Battery Day. 

“Many battery firms have tried to upgrade the energy density of LFP chemistry, but they have yet to have meaningful outcomes. Tesla is now saying it is increasing its reliance on LFP batteries and is anticipated to come up with information on new cobalt-free batteries during Battery Day.  This can either mean that Tesla and CATL have come up with technology to improve the efficiency of LFP batteries or unprecedented technology in removing cobalt,” he said. “Since either way will likely affect the industrial trend, domestic companies are paying attention to what Tesla will reveal during the event,” the industry insider stated. 

Tesla’s Battery Day event is expected to be held on September 22, 2020. A live audience is expected to be present, though the event will also be live-streamed. 

Simon Alvarez: Simon is a reporter with a passion for electric cars and clean energy. Fascinated by the world envisioned by Elon Musk, he hopes to make it to Mars (at least as a tourist) someday.
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