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TOKYO — Panasonic plans to boost the energy density of the battery cells it supplies to Tesla by 20 percent in five years and commercialize a cobalt-free version “in two to three years,” the head of its U.S. EV battery business said.
This is the first time Panasonic, a leading cell provider for the world’s top electric vehicle maker, Tesla, has outlined these targets, putting down a marker in a highly competitive sector to stay ahead of the game.
Panasonic introduced the so-called “2170” lithium-ion cells, with the nickel-cobalt-aluminum cathode chemistry, for Tesla’s Model 3 in 2017.
Researchers say it already has the highest energy density at above 700 watt-hour per liter.
With an even higher density, these cells could help increase how much an EV can run on a single charge, while also paving the way for smaller batteries and roomier car interiors.
A cobalt-free version, on the other hand, would cut reliance on a costly and controversial component, which makes batteries stable but poses ethical issues given controversial labor conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the top producer of the material.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has long said he wants to move to zero-cobalt battery cells.
Panasonic has already cut cobalt content to less than 5 percent in the NCA cathode and plans to improve its batteries in stages, its U.S. EV battery chief Yasuaki Takamoto told Reuters.
But the company has declined to link its battery roadmap to Tesla’s future models.
Panasonic recently lost its status as Tesla’s exclusive battery supplier. The U.S. firm has partnered with South Korea’s LG Chem and China’s CATL.
CATL is supplying Tesla with low-cost lithium iron phosphate batteries that contain no cobalt.
According to Takamoto, the average density of LFP battery cells is less than half the level of Panasonic’s latest NCA batteries. He did not name any companies.