Is Tesla’s cobalt-free battery boom a gimmick or a touchable reality?

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has put the battery on the field twice. Tesla’s Battery Day, originally scheduled for mid-April, has been extended from May to June. Battery Day is Tesla’s investor conference at its New York superplant, where it will announce significant progress in the battery sector.

Is Tesla's cobalt-free battery boom a gimmick or a touchable reality?

Journalist Zhou Xiaoxuan

The industry’s most concern is the announcement of the same day about the composition of the battery information. Battery Day is Tesla’s investor conference at its New York superplant, where it will announce significant progress in the battery sector.

Cobalt-free

Power batteries are cobalt-free, causing industry earthquakes. From upstream cobalt raw materials enterprises, midstream positive materials manufacturers, to downstream terabethany battery companies.

February 18 (Reuters) – Tesla is in talks with the Ninder era to use cobalt-free batteries for electric cars produced at its Shanghai plant, Reuters reported on February 18.

At the close the following day, Chinese cobalt giant Hanrui Cobalt (300618), which owns cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo( 300618. SZ), Huayou Cobalt (603799. SH) fell to a halt, Luoyang Yuye (603993. SH) is down 9.9 percent.

Shares in Glencore, the world’s biggest cobalt giant, fell after a small rise of 232p on February 19th, and on March 23rd they were trading at 112.5p. It never returned to more than 200p.

Tesla and Glencore are in talks to supply cobalt to the Shanghai plant under a long-term contract, Bloomberg reported.

In 2019, Tesla will enter China and set up a super factory in Shanghai in 11 months, bringing the Tesla Model 3 home. Panasonic, LG Chem and Ninder Times (300750.SZ) are Tesla’s battery suppliers in China.

One wants cobalt, and on the other. Several industry sources on the interface news about the matter, said that this is what Musk is clever, has been the initiative to negotiate in their own hands.

Musk “wants cobalt” because the current triple battery production is not dependent on cobalt, “decobalt” is because it wants to reduce battery costs.

Batteries, as the “heart” of new energy vehicles, account for about three to four percent of the cost of the vehicle.

Three-way lithium battery and iron phosphate lithium battery, is currently the most commonly used electric vehicles two kinds of lithium-ion power battery. The former has high energy density and strong battery life, while the latter has good safety and low cost.

Is Tesla's cobalt-free battery boom a gimmick or a touchable reality?

As the most expensive “one-way” of the teratose positive material, cobalt is mainly used to stabilize the layerstructure of the material and improve the material circulation and multiplier performance. Because of the use of cobalt, positive materials exceed 40% of the cost of a triple battery.

Currently, nearly 70% of the world’s cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a price of more than $30,000 per ton of cobalt.

The scarcity of cobalt, the instability of the DRC policy, and the price-limiting policy of head companies will get stuck in the necks of new energy vehicle and battery companies.

According to Southwest Securities, the cost of a triple-high battery with low cobalt or cobalt-free battery capacity can be reduced by 30 per cent.

Three-yuan battery without cobalt, is the car and battery enterprises common goal.

Musk has previously said Tesla will continue to improve its technology to try to completely discard cobalt in the next generation of batteries and change the reputation of “bloody batteries” that allow children to illegally extract cobalt.

Panasonic is one of the few global battery giants to adopt the NCA technology route. The technology is representative of high nickel and low cobalt, containing about 5% of cobalt.

Also representing the direction of high nickel and low cobalt are The NCM811 battery, which contains about 7% cobalt, and the widely used NCM523 battery, which contains about 12% of cobalt.

Depending on the polymer element of the positive material, the three-way battery on the market is divided into NCA and NCM batteries. The NCA represents the use of lithium nickel cobalt aluminum acid for positive materials, and NCM uses lithium nickel cobalt manganese acid, and “523” and “811” represent the ratio of nickel cobalt manganese elements.

On May 11, Ningde Times Chairman Zeng Weiqun said at the network performance presentation that Ningde era has its own cobalt-free battery technology reserves, the current research and development is progressing smoothly, “is a brand-new, disruptive products.”

Who’s going to get a profit on cobalt?

Iron phosphate batteries have been one of the biggest beneficiaries of this anti-cobalt campaign.

On the second day of discussions between Tesla and Ningde about the use of cobalt-free batteries, the iron phosphate lithium battery sector stock Xiangtan Electrochemical (002125. SZ), German-made (300769. SZ), Integrated Technology (300477. SZ) recorded a halt.

Domestic production of lithium iron phosphate batteries including BYD (002594. SZ), Guoxuan Gaoke (002074. SZ), Ningde era, etc.

The lithium phosphate is cobalt-free and costs less than 15% of the total battery cost.

According to Cinda Securities, the total cost of electricity for the three-yuan battery NCM523 was 724.91 yuan/kWh, 18.4% higher than the 612.4 yuan/kWh of the lithium iron phosphate battery.

But the cobalt-free batteries now being discussed by the giants are not the mature lithium iron phosphate batteries in the market.

Although stable and cheap, lithium iron phosphate batteries have low energy density and weigh almost one adult more than a triple battery if mounted on a car.

This means that its range is poor. Electric vehicles with lithium iron phosphate batteries on the market have a range of about 200 kilometers.

This is clearly not comparable to the capacity of the triance battery, which is more than 400 km long.

Coupled with the Chinese government’s subsidy for new energy electric vehicles loaded with three yuan batteries, the market space for lithium phosphate, from the absolute mainstream in the early stages of electric vehicle development, has been compressed to less than 30% of the domestic market.

To address this pain point, battery companies began to develop new technologies to increase the battery life of lithium-ion iron phosphate vehicles. BYD introduced blade batteries, and Ninder developed CTP (cell to pack, module-free battery pack) technology.

According to Shen Hao, who works in a key materials research unit at the national level, these methods are used to increase the energy density of lithium iron phosphate batteries by optimizing the size of the cell, simplifying systems and modules and other weight reduction methods.

“But that doesn’t change the electrochemical system of batteries. Shen Hao told the interface reporter that the industry is more concerned about how the three-way material goes cobalt.

No cobalt to do it?

What is the cobalt-free battery on the basis of the teralum material?

Ren Yuan, a professor in a university’s key materials laboratory, told interface journalists that, in theory, the cobalt-free materials of the three-way material can be achieved.

“Without cobalt, the composition of the material will change significantly, and the positive material may become a binary or quad material, but the basic structure remains unchanged. Ren Yuan told The Interface News.

Binary material refers to lithium nickel manganate, and quad material refers to nickel-cobalt manganese aluminum (NCMA) polymer. The triamcinolone material nickel cobalt manganese (NCM) removes cobalt, which becomes lithium nickel manganese acid, a binary material.

Real lithium research president Moko told the interface reporters that the positive material technology progress has two major directions: one is high voltage, the other is high capacity.

“Lithium nickel manganese acid in the spinel structure belongs to the 5 volt high voltage direction. “Inko said, compared to the current 3.7 volt stake material, due to the increase in voltage, the corresponding increase in power.

But The biggest problem with lithium niwent-nickel-manganese-second materials, however, is that they can’t find a matching electrolyte system.

“The existing electrolyte system is broken down and the battery fails. Morco said.

Beehive Technologies, formerly known as Great Wall Motor’s Power Battery Division, said on May 18th that it had launched a thin-chip cobalt-free battery.

It uses a layered material, lithium nigomanganate, instead of lithium cobalt, which is commercially used for the teraben positive material.

Inko said that the layered nickel manganese acid lithium belongs to the high capacity direction, is on the basis of layered nickel cobalt manganese (NCM) lithium acid to remove cobalt.

But Inko believes that the current three yuan to cobalt can not reach the practical stage, even Panasonic, LG Chemical and other the strongest battery giants can not yet “de-cobalt practical.”

Executives at the aforementioned positive materials company said the claim that cobalt-free batteries were inaccurate and that “cobalt-free” batteries were only a research topic.

The current positive material at Tesla’s battery plant does not contain low cobalt content, about 6 to 7 percent, the person said.

“Tesla wants the next generation of triple-$batteries to contain no more than 3% cobalt or even zero. But even low-cobalt triple-solar cells could be commercialized on a large scale as soon as two or three years later, the executive said.

Ren Yuan also said that cobalt-free materials can be used in electric vehicles on a large scale, still need more data to draw conclusions.

Compared with industry rumors, the industrial layout of the relevant enterprises can better reflect the true appearance of the market.

China’s cobalt industry three majors are not currently making adjustments to their respective cobalt plates.

Cobalt industry accounted for more than 70% of revenue of the cold cobalt industry, in the April 8 network performance statement said that in the short term, the three-way lithium battery is still one of the mainstream technical direction of power batteries, the company will always be based on the main cobalt products.

“With the continuous improvement of the penetration rate of new energy vehicles, even in the context of low cobalt of the three-dollar battery, the demand for cobalt in new energy vehicles is expected to increase.” “Hanrui cobalt industry secretary, deputy general manager Tao Kai said.

More businesses are turning their exploration to high-capacity materials.

The aforementioned positive materials executives believe that high nickel low cobalt is a real direction for the future of the triple battery.

Ren Yuan also believes that the use of high-nickel materials is the industry’s more recognized technology to increase the energy density of batteries one of the routes.

LG Chemical, Ningde Times, BYD, Guoxuan Gaoke, Grimme and other enterprises, are in the layout of nickel cobalt manganese aluminum (NCMA) battery materials.

The principle of this four-element positive material is to add aluminum element sin to the nickel cobalt manganese positive polymer, inhibit the instability of high nickel, triple into a four-element material, and gradually achieve low cobalt.

Huayou Cobalt, one of the cobalt giants, has also invested in nickel and positive materials projects in Indonesia, with its 60,000-ton nickel metal project expected to start production this year.

In addition, battery companies are also converting teratosis batteries to High Nickel low cobalt NCM622, NCM811 matching products.

Ninde Times said that NCM811 battery shipments have accounted for 20% of its total shipments.

New Era Securities research report that compared with ordinary teracity materials, high nickel three-way materials have three major barriers: in the front drive system preparation, positive material sintering and production environment requirements are relatively demanding;

According to the interface reporters understand, from the total cost of a single ton, the cost of NCM811 battery, than the NCM523 battery is 20,000 yuan higher, and the former processing process is more complicated.

Ren Yuan also said that the three-element material, improve the content of nickel, will reduce the stability of the cycle, the safety risk will increase.

“The battery cycle stability of high nickel material can be achieved by optimizing the material structure, surface cover and other means, and the safety can be improved by developing the supporting non-combustible electrolyte, optimizing the battery structure, adding overcharge protection, and optimizing the thermal management system.” But these technologies are complex and the large-scale application of high-nickel materials will require the joint efforts of academia and the business community, Ren said.

This means that the current commercial triple battery is still inseparable from cobalt.

As for what big news Tesla will make on battery days, the industry can only guess based on Musk’s previous words.

According to U.S. electric car news site Electrek, Tesla is likely to announce its Roadrunner autonomous battery project on Battery Day, which aims to reduce the cost of producing electric vehicles, and that Tesla could also launch model S models with new batteries and announce which plants will produce new batteries.

Mr. Musk told reporters that Tesla could announce three things on Battery Day: the progress of joint battery development with Panasonic; the announcement that it will use lithium iron phosphate batteries, or the NCM523 CTP battery technology from the Ninder era; and the announcement of the latest dry electrode technology.

“No one can guess what will happen next time Musk is brewing, and geniuses are like Jobs. One Tesla fan posted on Musk’s Twitter feed.

(At the request of the interviewee, Shen Jie, Ren Yuan is a pseudonym)