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Tesla may use cobalt-free EV batteries for Chinese cars

Cobalt is incredibly expensive, and its mining process is hardly environmentally friendly.

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Could even cheaper Teslas be on the horizon?

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Electric cars may help automakers achieve a world of zero tailpipe emissions, but the batteries that power them certainly come with strings attached. Namely, cobalt: Mining the element takes a serious toll not only on the environment, but also on the impoverished countries it comes from, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It's heartening, then, to learn that Tesla could begin using cobalt-free batteries. Reuters reports Tesla is looking into using batteries without the material for cars it builds in China, albeit with a further priority in mind: saving money.

Cobalt is incredibly expensive, and the switch to a lithium-iron phosphate battery could help further lower the cost of producing electric cars in China. Tesla's first foreign production facility opened in the country earlier this year, though EV sales have continued to fall locally. Producing Teslas cheaper is, obviously, a noteworthy option to keep things humming in China.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The reason EV-makers use cobalt is it helps raise batteries' energy density. Companies using cobalt are able to pack more energy into each battery, giving longer driving ranges, a crucial selling point for EVs. Reuters' sources said Contemporary Amperex Technology, the Chinese company Tesla is in talks with for the cobalt-free batteries, touts its "cell-to-pack" technology as a way to increase energy density without using the rare earth metal. Another source said Tesla has no plans to stop the use of batteries with cobalt, however. 

Tesla was named in a lawsuit late last year against tech companies that use the element in their products. The companies stand accused of turning a blind eye to child labor in cobalt mines in Congo, with the plaintiffs the families of children killed or seriously injured in the mines. Tesla CEO Elon Musk in 2018 promised to reduce the amount of cobalt it used to "almost nothing."

Read moreApple, Tesla among tech firms sued over child deaths in cobalt mines

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