Panasonic wants to stop using cobalt in its batteries
Panasonic plans to develop automotive batteries without one of their key ingredients, cobalt.
Prices for cobalt have been rising steadily, which are currently trading at around US$41 per pound. A year ago, they were at about US$25 per pound, and five years ago they were around US$12. They previously peaked just over US$50 in early 2008, right before the financial crash.
Supply problems are also an issue. Battery makers have been racing to secure supplies of the metal. By far, the country with the greatest reserves of cobalt is Congo-Kinshasa, holding over 3.5 million tonnes. However, the country has long been embroiled in a series of conflicts that not only threaten supply lines but also bring up serious ethical questions about how the cobalt is produced.
With electric vehicle adoption set to increase in the future, there are concerns that there might not be enough cobalt to go round.
As such, a number of battery makers are looking to make efficiency gains and reduce the amount of cobalt they use.
“We have already cut down cobalt usage substantially,” Panasonic’s head of automotive battery business, Kenji Tamura, told analysts.
“We are aiming to achieve zero usage in the near future, and development is underway.”
Panasonic is the main supplier of Tesla’s battery packs. Over six years, Panasonic claims to have reduced the amount of cobalt used in Tesla’s batteries by 60%.
A first Model S used 11 kg of cobalt per car, compared to the Model 3’s 4.5 kg per vehicle.
Panasonic also aims to sign new contracts “in a way that allows the company to hedge risks of surging prices of the materials,” said chief of Panasonic’s automotive business Yoshio Ito.