Tesla battery supplier Panasonic wants cobalt-free cells in 2-3 years


Tesla battery supplier Panasonic wants to do away with cobalt in its electric vehicle battery cells within two to three years, which would decrease cost and increase the company’s ability to keep up with the automaker’s lofty plans for a global expansion.

Over the past few years, Tesla has really dialed in a focus on electric vehicle battery production and sourcing materials for its cells in mass amounts. The automaker has also focused on battery longevity, which cobalt assists in as it secures each battery’s stability and life cycle. However, cobalt is an extremely controversial mineral. It is usually mined in the Republic of Congo, where child labor is used, and many companies have attempted to get rid of cobalt in their cells altogether. Panasonic is one of those companies, Nikkei Asia reported.

Shawn Watanabe, Head of Energy Technology and Manufacturing at Panasonic of Japan, detailed his company’s plan to out cobalt from its cells during a virtual session for the Consumer Electronics Show, which is the world’s largest consumer electronics and tech expo, on Wednesday. “Two or three years from now, we will be able to introduce a cobalt-free high energy-density cell,” he said.

Getting rid of cobalt in cells would not only reduce the cost of cells, but the price of electric vehicles would decrease as well. The battery pack of an EV is the most expensive part of the car and accounts for between 30 and 40% of the vehicle. Panasonic, who has been in partnership with Tesla since 2014 and recently signed a new battery supply deal with the Elon Musk-headed company, assists in the operation of the Tesla Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada.

Ultimately, the cost of batteries is what really drives the price of EVs up. Tesla has worked tirelessly to figure out EV cell supply constraints and has started manufacturing its own 4680 cell in-house. The way to reduce costs is to mass-produce cells, which requires sizeable material contracts, and Tesla is focusing in on nickel for the future, and not cobalt.

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“I’d just like to re-emphasize, any mining companies out there, please mine more nickel,” Musk said during the company’s Q2 2020 Earnings Call. “Tesla will give you a giant contract for a long period of time if you mine nickel efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way.”

Panasonic is taking the same strategy, according to Celin Mikolajczak, VP of Battery Technology for Panasonic North America. “Reducing cobalt makes it harder for us to manufacture, but ultimately does reduce the negative environmental impacts of batteries and reduce the cost.”

Panasonic is also attempting to cut costs by recycling its batteries and materials. It recently paired up with J.B. Straubel, a Tesla founder who started Redwood Materials. “The materials we use are very valuable. We’ve always recycled. It’s a steady stream of raw material, and that could become an appreciable part of our supply chain,” Mikolajczak said.



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