Panasonic wants to cut its battery cobalt levels in half

Tesla's battery supplier wants to cut cobalt to reduce cost -- but can it do that at scale?

Kyle Hyatt Former news and features editor
Kyle Hyatt (he/him/his) hails originally from the Pacific Northwest, but has long called Los Angeles home. He's had a lifelong obsession with cars and motorcycles (both old and new).
Kyle Hyatt

Cobalt is a critical part of the chemistry that makes up electric car batteries, but that's becoming somewhat problematic because cobalt isn't cheap and the price isn't going anywhere but up. This has led battery manufacturers to try and find ways to eliminate it as much as possible.

Panasonic , aka Tesla's exclusive battery manufacturer, has already managed to fine-tune its battery chemistry so that cobalt makes up only around 10 percent of the total, but apparently that's not good enough. According to Automotive News, Panasonic seeks to cut that number in half.

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Cobalt mining is hard, dangerous work and prices for the rare mineral are going up.

Samir Tounsi /AFP/Getty Images

A 50 percent reduction in anything is a challenge, particularly when it comes to engineering, so how exactly will Panasonic manage it? We don't know, and the company is keeping its figurative mouth shut beyond saying that in the laboratory, it's already managed to do it. The problem comes with scaling up in the face of demand for more and more electric cars.

Eventually, Panasonic plans to develop totally cobalt-free batteries, but who knows when that will be a thing? Likely the easiest way to do it would be to move away from lithium-ion battery technology entirely, but with solid-state batteries still a long way off from production, what could step in and take its place?