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Can Tesla Build Cheaper Electric Cars With Advanced (and Cobalt-Free) Batteries?

“One of the main reasons we’re not all driving electric vehicles is the price,” argues a transportation writer in Forbes — explaining how Tesla hopes to finally change that:

The company is placing a huge bet on rechargeable battery technology that doesn’t use cobalt. This is one of the main elements making lithium ion batteries so expensive. It’s also fraught with political issues, since the mining can be in conflict areas like the Congo, and its production is considered quite polluting of the environment. But cobalt is used because it enables the energy density required in batteries intended to last for hundreds of miles per charge. A couple of months ago, it was revealed that Tesla was working with CATL on lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, and these could be the real gamechanger. LFP batteries don’t use cobalt and have a roadmap to push well past the magical $100 per kWh (wholesale) that is considered the threshold for EVs being cheaper than Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles…

Tesla has also recently patented technology for cathodes that significantly improves the number of charge cycles… The new Tesla technology, patented by the company’s battery team led by Jeff Dahn, can increase charge cycles to nearly 4,000, which would be more like 75 years if charged once a week — hence the talk of million-mile batteries. More recently, the Tesla team headed by Jeff Dahn patented some new technology for lithium metal/anode free batteries, which could drastically improve energy density and thereby considerably reduce costs. These technologies, if they become commercially viable, could revolutionize battery durability and price, and there’s another technology called all-polymer batteries on the horizon that is being developed by a former Nissan senior researcher, which he claims could cut 90% off the current price.

But these are improvements for the future that may not happen, and cobalt-free lithium iron phosphate batteries are here now. Tesla will be using LFP for the batteries in its Chinese Model 3, after receiving government approval to do so. It is estimated that using LFP batteries will allow a 15-20% reduction in manufacturing cost. Taking calculations regarding how much of a car’s cost is batteries into account, this could make EVs a mere 10% more expensive than ICE instead of 30%, which will be easy to regain in cheaper running costs over a year or two of ownership. It will also give EVs an even greater lead over fuel-cell technology, making it even less likely that hydrogen will be the future of electric cars.

The time is fast approaching when EVs are not just more ecological and cheaper to run than ICE cars, but cheaper to buy too, and batteries free of cobalt are a key step in that direction. That’s why Tesla’s shift to LFP is so significant — it could be the final nail in the coffin for fossil fuel vehicles.

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