If the high price tag is all that stands between you and your dream Tesla, you might be able to afford one in a few years. Panasonic is working on making new, cobalt-free batteries that will bring down costs and make Tesla vehicles more environmentally friendly.
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“Two or three years from now, we will be able to introduce a cobalt-free, high energy-density cell,” said Shawn Watanabe, head of energy technology and manufacturing at Panasonic of Japan, during a session at CES 2021, the world’s largest tech and consumer electronics expo. CES went virtual this year because of the pandemic.
Cobalt is used in the cathode — “negatively charged electrode by which electrons enter an electrical device,” according to Dictionary.com — of lithium-ion batteries. While cobalt now accounts for only 5% of the cathode, the material still has a high cost, both in dollars and human suffering. Much of cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sometimes via child slavery. Tesla and other companies have found more ethical sources of cobalt elsewhere, but Tesla has been accused of tolerating maiming and deaths of kids in the DRC. Whether or not these claims are substantiated, the less cobalt, the better.
“Reducing cobalt makes it harder for us to manufacture, but ultimately does reduce the negative environmental impacts of batteries and reduce the cost,” said Celina Mikolajczak, vice president of battery technology at Panasonic Energy of North America, as reported by Nikkei Asia.
Because batteries usually account for 30-40% of an electric vehicle’s cost, and much of that is for cobalt, consumers can expect less expensive cars once the cobalt-free battery becomes the norm. Currently, Teslas range from just under $40,000 for the least expensive Tesla Model 3 to nearly $80,000 for the Model X. Tesla founder Elon Musk announced plans last September to introduce a $25,000 electric vehicle in three years.
Image via Dylan Scarsone