Tesla has officially received approval from the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to use lithium iron phosphate batteries for its locally-made Model 3 sedan.
Lithium iron phosphate batteries, often identified by the acronym LFP, lack any cobalt in their composition. Cobalt, while an efficient and crucial element to previous builds of lithium-ion batteries, is controversial because a number of mines’ questionable practices.
Because of cobalt’s questionable roots, Tesla has focused on using batteries that utilize less and less of the metal. Instead, the company has been in advanced talks with CATL, its Chinese battery supplier, since February. It is unknown if CATL will be supplying Tesla with the batteries for the Made-in-China Model 3, according to Reuters, but the two companies do have a two-year contract that took effect earlier this month.
Removing cobalt has been a primary focus of Tesla’s battery development for a while now. In Tesla’s 2019 Impact Report, which was released on June 8, 2020, the automaker described its current practices for mining Cobalt and outlined how its current batteries use less of the metal than other assemblies.
“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,” Tesla stated in its Impact Report.
Tesla maintains a strict due diligence policy for its acquisition of cobalt. Each of its cobalt suppliers and partners must uphold responsible and integrity-focused techniques when acquiring the metal.
“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 company also wrote in its Impact Report.
The company did mention in the report that the eventual goal was to entirely phase out the use of cobalt within its batteries, but developments must be made. Cobalt is a crucial part of a vehicle’s electric battery because it stabilizes the power cycle and supplies the pack with high-rate performance, ScienceMag reported. Cobalt, when decreased in an EV battery, must be replaced with nickel.
However, high amounts of nickel can lead to overheating and could cause the batteries to combust. This reaction would create a dangerous environment for a driver and those surrounding the vehicle.
Tesla’s introduction of cobalt-free batteries into its Made-in-China Model 3 could be just the beginning. The company mentioned in its Impact Report that it would eventually rid cobalt from its cells, and China is just the start. Eventually, all Tesla cars will be manufactured without the expensive metal, which could ultimately lead to lower vehicle prices.