Tesla’s cobalt-free battery strategy is making Elon Musk an actual “iron man”

(Credit: Tesla)

Tesla quietly revealed in its Q1 report that nearly half the vehicles it produced in the first quarter of 2022 were equipped with cobalt-free lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries. The news, however, was overshadowed in the news cycle, particularly by Tesla’s $19 billion revenue and CEO Elon Musk’s acquisition of social media platform Twitter. 

LFP batteries are not a new innovation, but it has not been used as much in areas outside China. According to data from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence (BMI), only 3% of electric vehicle batteries in the United States and Canada and 6% in the European Union are iron-based. In China, however, LFP batteries command 44% of the EV market. 

Tesla currently uses LFP batteries in its base vehicles, though Elon Musk has hinted that the EV company will be using more cobalt-free cells in more products. Considering the prolific nature of Tesla and its influence on the market, it would not be surprising if other EV makers also began exploring the option of using LFP batteries for their own cars. 

Amusingly enough, by playing a notable part in LFP battery adoption, it appears that Elon Musk has effectively become an “iron man” of sorts. 

According to a Reuters review of the EV market, Tesla is not alone in its support for LFP batteries. Over a dozen companies are reportedly considering building LFP battery cell plants in the United States and Europe in the next three years. And things will likely only pick up from there. Mujeeb Ijaz, the founder of US battery startup Our Next Energy, noted that LFP has a future in the EV industry. 

“I think lithium iron phosphate has a new life. It has a clear and long-term advantage for the electric vehicle industry,” he said. 

There was a reason why LFP batteries took this long to gain ground. While LFP cells use cheaper materials, and while they could be consistently charged fully without much degradation, they tend to be larger, heavier, and generally hold less energy than nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) cells. Thus, electric cars that use LFP batteries tend to have shorter range. 

Tesla’s decision to use LFP batteries for its base vehicles could be considered a strategic move. Since the company is electively the undisputed leader in the electric vehicle sector, the roughly 150,000 cars it produced last quarter that were equipped with LFP batteries took a number of analysts and specialists by surprise. And similar to other innovations from the company, such as its use of megacasts, it appears that other carmakers will soon be following suit. 

EV startup Fisker, for one, noted that it is planning on using LFP batteries for its lower-range SUVs. CEO Henrik Fisker noted that the company is in discussions with battery suppliers from the United States, Canada, or Mexico. Fisker noted that LFP batteries are perfect for vehicles that are used by city-dwellers. 

“If I never leave Los Angeles, I never leave San Francisco, I never leave London … I think that’s where LFP comes in really well,” he said. 

Audi CEO Markus Duesmann, in comments that were shared last March, also spoke highly of LFP cells’ potential. “It may well be that we will see LFP in a larger portion of the fleet in the medium term. After the war, a new situation will emerge; we will adapt to that and choose battery technologies and specifications accordingly,” he said. 

Even BMW, which is arguably lagging in the electric vehicle race considering the pace of rivals such as Volkswagen and Daimler, is looking towards LFP batteries. Recent comments from BMW chief procurement officer Joachim Post indicated that the German automaker was analyzing the merits of iron-based cells. “We’re looking at different technologies to minimize the use of resources and also we’re looking at optimizing chemistry,” the executive said. 

*Quotes courtesy of Reuters.

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Tesla’s cobalt-free battery strategy is making Elon Musk an actual “iron man”
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