Automaker Tesla seeks to minimize its environmental impact. One of the company initiatives is to use cobalt-free batteries in its electric vehicles.
As electric vehicles increase in popularity, the demand for cobalt is expected to soar. There shouldn’t be any problem with this until it was found that batteries that use cathodes with nickel and cobalt have the highest human health and environmental impacts. In an effort to reduce such impacts, Tesla seeks to go cobalt-free.
The Use of Cobalt in Electric Vehicle Batteries
Cobalt is a valuable metal found in a variety of products, including lithium-ion batteries in electric cars. It provides batteries with a reliable cycle ability due to the tight molecular compound structure it delivers in the cathode.
This metal has a long industrial history with several uses but is largely found in portable electronics like tablets, laptop computers, and cell phones. It is a key component of lithium-ion batteries that store energy from wind, solar, and other renewable sources.
With consumers relying more on electronic devices these days, cobalt definitely plays a critical role in our day-to-day life. Electric cars, which are now growing in popularity, rely on batteries to keep running for a long time.
While it might be good for the environment to rely more on electric cars than vehicles run by gasoline, further growth might lead to greater demand for cobalt. The issue here isn’t about the supply of this valuable battery component but the controversies behind cobalt mining.
Environmental and ethical issues behind cobalt mining
The metal is primarily mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Australia, but the majority of cobalt is sourced from the former. Unfortunately, cobalt mining in Congo was noted to often involve unsafe and unethical labor practices. The environmental and human consequences of mining cobalt have been documented that is why consumers are trying to curtail the use of the metal.
In Congo, thousands of miners are scouring dangerous underground tunnels to hunt for cobalt. They neither have power tools not even face masks. The mines provide much-needed jobs for the millions of impoverished residents in the region.
Human rights groups have been concerned with the unethical and unsafe labor practices that are related to the unregulated mining of cobalt in the DRC. Many countries are also alarmed since the environmental and political instability of the Congo means that a huge part of the supply chain of cobalt is at risk for disruption.
Because of the questionable practices of a number of mines where the metal is obtained, Tesla has started focusing on the use of batteries that utilize less of the metal. Now, the company aims not only to limit the use of cobalt but also to transition away from it, though it has been a key component in EV batteries. Tesla revealed that the first batteries that do not contain cobalt will be included in models manufactured in China and sold on its domestic market.
A Cobalt-free Battery for Electric Vehicles
A notable carmaker, Tesla is a member of the Responsible Mining Initiative, which continues to provide businesses with a framework essential for detecting “red flags” on environmental and human rights issues in supply chains, as well as tools to mend any breaches. Since the joined the initiative, they have stopped the use of third-party smelters.
In Tesla’s 2019 impact report, the company has confirmed having recycled one-thousand tons of nickel, ten tons of cobalt, and 320 tons of copper in 2019. Tesla also said they are developing an innovative battery recycling system that can deal with manufacturing both end-of-life and scrap batteries. This is essential to maximize the recovery of critical or high-value elements while also obtaining the lower-value ones.
Early this year, Tesla also announced its plan to introduce new low-cost, yet long-lasting batteries in its Model 3 sedan. It expects to bring the cost of EVs in line with the gasoline model vehicles, and enable batteries for electric batteries to have second and even third lives in the electric power grid.
Tesla CEO, Elon Musk has been teasing its rivals and investors for months about the advancements in battery technology. The new, low-cost EV batteries are designed to last longer or to be more specific, to last for a million miles of usage. This will enable Tesla’s EVs to sell profitably for less than or the same price as gasoline-powered vehicles.
Sources revealed that improved versions of batteries will be introduced in other markets in addition to Tesla vehicles. These batteries will have more storage capacity and greater energy density at a lower cost than other vehicles. The new batteries will mainly rely on low-cobalt and cobalt-free chemistries. The use of different chemical additives, coatings, and materials will reduce internal stress and allow batteries to store more energy for longer periods.
Removing cobalt in battery development
It has been the main focus of the battery development of Tesla to remove cobalt in its electric vehicles’ battery component. Currently, their EV batteries consist of nickel-rich cathode materials that contain less cobalt with the goal of ultimately eliminating the metal completely from the cells.
The company also maintains a strict policy for its acquisition of the metal. Each of its partners and suppliers should uphold integrity-focused and responsible techniques when acquiring cobalt. Although cobalt is a crucial part of their vehicle’s electric battery as it supplies the pack with a high-rate performance, Tesla revealed that its goal is to phase out the use of cobalt entirely within its batteries.
With the growing number of electric vehicles currently on the road, Tesla has been helping tackle climate change. Now, to minimize the environmental impact of its products, the company seeks to eliminate the use of cobalt in its battery packs using innovative technology. With this, potential consumers can also expect more cost-efficient electric-powered vehicles that are equipped with batteries that could last for longer periods. This introduction to cobalt-free batteries into Tesla’s new model could just be the beginning.