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Nickel scarce and expensive: Tesla wants to convert electric cars with standard range to LFP

Tesla CEO Elon Musk used the conference call to announce the business figures for the second quarter of 2020 in an unconventional way: He publicly called on raw material companies to please produce more nickel and promised firm contracts for large quantities of the battery raw material if he did efficiently and environmentally friendly. Since then, reports have included a contract for a Tesla factory in the nickel-rich country of Indonesia. But now Musk repeated on Twitter that nickel is the biggest brake on the expansion of battery production. Tesla is therefore switching to iron cathodes for electric cars with a standard range.

A Model 3 from China already with LFP

Strictly speaking, this switch has already started, because since October 2020 Tesla has been offering its locally produced Model 3 in China in the standard range version with a battery made of lithium iron phosphate cells (LFP) from CATL. A few thousand of these electric cars were exported to Europe shortly afterwards and sold at a small discount. In the first winter tests, the LFP battery received bad reviews because it charged very slowly and not quite fully in the cold and the charge indicator could jump. A software update, supported by high outside temperatures, has recently allowed the small Model 3 from China to charge faster than the same Tesla from the USA.

As far as is known, all Model 3s at the Fremont plant will continue to be produced using Panasonic NCA cells (nickel-cobalt-aluminum oxide). The first two metals allow a high energy content per kilogram, but are also expensive, as a graphic from Tesla shows on Battery Day in September 2020 (see above). Cobalt stands out with a price of almost 30 dollars per kilowatt hour, while the price of nickel is still moderate at around 16 dollars. The graph also shows iron as a metal for LFP cells: it has a little more than half the energy density – at a third the price of nickel.

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Against this background, Musk declared on Battery Day that Tesla products with the lowest density requirements would in future have iron-based cathodes. He also showed a Model 3 (probably meant as a standard range), a veiled vehicle that Musk later announced as an electric car for $ 25,000, and a large stand-alone battery. Electric cars with a long range and the Tesla Powerpack for the home should have cathodes with nickel and manganese, and particularly “mass-sensitive” products those with a high nickel content; The Tesla infographic shows Cybertruck and Semi as examples.

Tesla boss: Plenty of iron and lithium

According to this information, Tesla wants to do without the expensive and controversial raw material cobalt in the future, but the best electric cars cannot do without nickel. The fact that Musk has now confirmed the switch to LFP for those with standard range should mean that the Model 3 has passed the first tests in China and Europe for him. In any case, unlike nickel, iron is plentiful, wrote Musk on Twitter, as is lithium.

In this respect, Tesla Model 3 – and perhaps later Model Y – with LFP batteries from the USA and then the German Gigafactory can be expected. Tesla has just removed the previous Model Y in the standard version from the configurator after just six weeks because, according to Musk, it did not always meet its own requirements in terms of range. According to the US EPA standard, you could travel 244 miles (around 390 kilometers) with one battery charge.

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