Tesla quietly offered a new, cheaper battery chemistry; here’s why it’s important.
Cobalt is at the heart of virtually all the battery cells in EVs sold in North America. We require long range, and cobalt cells are simply more energy-dense. Cobalt is also in great demand, increasingly expensive, and comes from some very problematic places. On top of that, China has made a determined effort over 20 years to lock up the largest share of global cobalt—and massive share all of the processing capability that turns cobalt metal into materials that can be used in batteries. A recent two-part series in The New York Times lays out the global politics, the international intrigue, and the surging global demand in useful detail.
Iron ore, on the other hand, is far less valuable, found on every continent, and has been a global commodity almost since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Some EV analysts suggest that as all battery chemistries improve in energy density, we’ll see a bifurcation in available batteries: LiFP will be used in lower-range models and lower-cost entries, while more luxurious and longer-range EVs stick with more expensive cobalt chemistries.
If that comes to pass, Tesla may prove to be a pioneer in that respect. It is now the first company selling EVs in volume to offer LiFP-powered electric cars in the U.S. But it’ll be far from the last.