One of the major partners for Tesla and its electric vehicles is Panasonic. Panasonic is the company who creates the critical batteries for the EV’s Tesla sells. Panasonic has announced that it plans to boost the energy density of its 2170 battery cells that are supplied to Tesla by 20% over the next five years.
Panasonic has also announced that it intends to commercialize a cobalt-free battery for the next 2 to 3 years. Eliminating cobalt from batteries will make them cheaper, as cobalt is the most expensive material in the battery. While the upgrades are still many years away, Panasonic’s promise does mark the first time that a major battery maker has outlined this type of goal.
The battery market is highly competitive, and the first with batteries packing higher energy density and cobalt-free designs stands to make significant gains in the market. The higher the energy density of the battery, the further the electric vehicle can drive per charge. More energy density also means smartphones and electronic devices can run longer. Alternatively, more energy density could mean smaller batteries for the same runtime leading to their devices and lighter vehicles.
The Panasonic 2170 lithium-ion battery cells are currently made with nickel-cobalt-aluminum (NCA) cathode chemistry and launched for the Model 3 in 2017. That particular battery already has the highest energy density available at above 700 watt-hour per liter. Another major reason for the push to eliminate cobalt, aside from cost, is that there are ethical issues with the production of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is the largest producer of the material in the world.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has stated in the past that he wants to move to zero-cobalt battery cells. Currently, Panasonic’s NCA cathode uses less than 5% cobalt in its construction. While Panasonic wants the batteries specifically for Tesla, it hasn’t linked the battery production to a specific Tesla model.