Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a speech at the opening of the Berlin Gigafactory that there is potential in cathode batteries with relatively high manganese, in addition to lithium iron phosphate batteries and batteries with high nickel cathodes.
Elon Musk went in to a question about the use of batteries based on graphite, the material that is still often used for the anode. According to the Tesla CEO, this is not obvious, because graphite is quite difficult to produce. On the other hand, he underlined the ‘interesting potential’ of manganese. He says he is confident that Tesla will be able to achieve a situation with global volumes for iron phosphate and manganese batteries. Batteries based on this should be used for Teslas with standard range, while the Long Range versions will have battery cells with nickel cathodes.
Manganese is not new in the context of batteries. For electric cars, it is a metal used for NCM batteries, or LiNiMnCoO2. The cathode consists of nickel, cobalt and manganese. Partly because cobalt mainly comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo and extraction in that country is associated with human suffering and environmental pollution, manufacturers are trying to reduce the use of this metal ever further. Tesla is already using lithium iron phosphate batteries for the Model 3 and Model Y production in China and plans to expand that further. There is no cobalt in these batteries.
There are more initiatives to get rid of cobalt. In 2020, Musk indicated during Battery Day that it is quite possible to make a cathode that consists of two thirds of nickel and one third of manganese. Compared to NCM, this would mean a significant increase in the amount of manganese in relative terms. That would yield an energy storage improvement of about 66 percent without increasing the amount of nickel. The latter is important, because nickel has become very expensive and largely comes from Russia.
The idea is that lithium iron phosphate batteries will be used for the lowest-range electric models, followed by nickel-manganese batteries for longer-range vehicles and batteries with relatively high nickel in the cathodes for applications that require the longest range.