Elon Musk wants to phase out cobalt from batteries

During the socially-distanced Battery Day event, Tesla CEO Elon Musk made some big announcements, including the company’s move toward eliminating cobalt in its batteries, a new Plaid powertrain for the Model S that could get to speeds of 320 km/h, and a new cathode plant to streamline its battery production.

And, with the new battery technology, Musk has said Tesla will make a $25,000 car.

Tesla’s outdoor event had Musk and other presenters addressing Tesla shareholders in parked cars, who honked their horns to indicate their approval of the speakers’ remarks— almost like a drive-in movie shareholders meeting.

Tesla is poised to manufacture its own tabless batteries, which will improve its vehicles’ range and power. The new batteries will be produced in-house, which Musk says will reduce costs and bring the sale price of Tesla electric cars closer to gasoline-powered cars.

The tabless battery is expected to lower Tesla’s cost per kilowatt hour, a key metric used to measure electric vehicles’ battery packs. The tabless cells (Tesla is removing the tab that connects the cell and what it’s powering), which Tesla is calling the 4680 cells, will make its batteries six times more powerful and increase range by 16 percent.

Tesla presently sources its batteries from Panasonic, and is expected to keep doing so for some time, but moving battery production in house has been on Musk’s to-do list for some time; in 2018 a shortage of those cells added to production delays. Musk has stated the pace of battery production at Panasonic had slowed production of both the Model 3 and the Model Y.

Musk said Tesla will build a new cathode plant for its batteries in North America, part of its quest to reduce supply chain costs and simplify cathode production. It’s also making improvements to its process that will make cathodes 76 percent cheaper, and produce zero wastewater. The company also plans to diversify the cathodes it uses, because of low nickel supplies.

Tesla plans to eliminate the use of cobalt in its cathodes. Musk has said he wanted to eliminate it entirely in the past — even though Tesla’s existing batteries use very little of the metal. Cobalt is often mined under conditions that violate human rights, which has led to a push to find other materials to replace it.

Musk didn’t offer a timeline for when the company will stop using cobalt but said it will make its batteries significantly cheaper. “It’s absolutely critical that we make cars that people can actually afford,” he said. “Affordability is key to how we scale.”

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