New Battery Breakthrough Might Reduce Need For Cobalt


Cobalt is expensive, so reduction is key.

For Kevin Sahin, 77, innovating is a way of life. This scientist-turned-entrepreneur behind a battery technology adopted by chemical giants BASF SE and Johnson Matthey Plc is now back with yet another invention – one that he claims that will be able to boost electric vehicle performance in the forthcoming years. In a nutshell, his latest innovation reduces the need for cobalt – a key battery production material – to only the utmost critical areas, further reducing the costs.

In recent years, the heightened demand, packed with the volatile source country – the blueish-gray element is mined mostly in the Democratic Republic of Congo – have both pushed costs up, but also, brought fears of shortages for battery-powered cars. However, Sahin’s latest invention – which he calls GEMX – can be used in a variety of types of nickel-based power packs. Furthermore, the invention has been granted patents in the U.S., the European Union, China, and Japan – both some of the biggest battery manufacturing markets. To make matters even more interesting, Sahin was in Berlin earlier this month for an annual car industry conference, where he revealed that he was in talks with large battery manufacturers. And one of them has actually already agreed to buy the license to produce the material.

“We’re hoping we will get this into the hands of the major producers,” Sahin said in a phone interview. The technique could lower cobalt content to as little as 4 percent of battery cathodes, he said, from about 20 percent needed in some now.

There are two results of lowering the amount of cobalt in batteries: first, the cost. Second, it would help reduce the battery industry’s reliance on war-torn Congo, something we’ve been hearing about in the news on a regular basis for the past few years. Carmakers like BMW AG and Volkswagen AG were both parts of unflattering news, where child labor and unsafe working practices dominated the headlines in recent years, making their supply chains come under heightened scrutiny.

With Sahin’s technique of inserting GEMX into specific spaces within the chemical structure of cathodes, less cobalt is needed. And judging by Sahin’s track record, this man’s got something interesting at his hands. After all, this Turkish immigrant, who came to the United States at age 16, has already built a customer-service software company that he sold to Lucent Technologies for $1.5 billion, after which, he invested almost $100 million of his own money into the development of cathodes. And cathodes are a mission-critical chemical compound that determine how much can a battery last between charges.

Source: Bloomberg

Categories: Battery Tech

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29 Comments on "New Battery Breakthrough Might Reduce Need For Cobalt"

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I wonder if he reverse engineered a Tesla/Panasonic battery. Elon Musk stated some months ago that they have reduced cobalt content to about the same 4% level.

“In May, Elon Musk and JB Straubel explained to shareholders and analysts how Tesla got hip to the issues with cobalt early in the game. Together with partner Panasonic, it has reduced its cobalt usage by 60% since it produced the Roadster in 2009. In 2012, Tesla’s average cobalt usage was 11 kg per vehicle. In 2018, it’s 4.5 kg per vehicle.”

“Each Tesla vehicle currently contains “a few kilograms” of cobalt. By Cole’s calculations (based on a battery size of 60 kWh), it’s about $357 worth, whereas a typical EV from one of the other automakers contains 10 times as much, costing around $2,518.”

4% from 20% = 1/5 amount. $357/$2518 = 1/7.

“I wonder if he reverse engineered a Tesla/Panasonic battery.”

Nice try, Tesla fanboi, but the article states that he has already received patents for it — ” Furthermore, the invention has been granted patents in the U.S., the European Union, China, and Japan”

Besides, the following from the article suggests that he is an innovator, not a IP pirate.

“who came to the United States at age 16, has already built a customer-service software company that he sold to Lucent Technologies for $1.5 billion”

You can patent all kinds of ridiculous stuff. Google recently got most of a patent involved in their suit against Uber thrown out because an engineer realized it covered techniques that were common in the industry for many years.

Yup, having a patent means nothing.
I personally know a guy who has a patent for a configurator chip for computer memory modules. There’s one in your computer DIMMs and it’s a JEDEC standard.

If you’re smart enough to rename your invention and distance it from prior art, you can patent it.

In the US you can, but far less so, rest of the world.

The patent system is rotten, not only in the US. You can have a patent on something that already exits also in Europe. There will be a legal dispute, but you can easily get your patent.

Actually, many of the fights for prior art comes in China and world court.

“I wonder if he reverse engineered a Tesla/Panasonic battery”

Tesla/Panasonic claims <4% of the entire cell. Sahin claims 4% of the cathode. Big difference.

Actually, colbalt in Tesla cells is about 2% so how much is the cathode?

and it soon will be zero

I doubt that’s correct. 75kWh of Tesla cells weighs 250-300 kg, so 4.5kg is hardly 4% of the entire cell.

However, it should be noted that the 4.5kg estimate is from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, not directly from Tesla. Bloomberg referenced them as well, so I think it’s legit.

The Cathode contains transition materials Ni, Mn and Co (or Al) , then there is some isolation layer then the Anode which is Graphite with more and more Si.
So the percentages stated here ( actually it’s 2.8% of Co plus Al as replacement used in Panasonic cells) is only for the Cathode part – not for the entire cell.

This is like saying “I wonder if X reverse engineered a Tesla because their car can do 170mph and so do Tesla.”
It’s a ridiculous unwarranted leap of “logic”. not to mention, since they have patents, then Tesla’s scientists and lawyers are in gross dereliction of duty for entirely failing to challenge them and vice versa since they should be challenging Tesla.
As the saying goes “you aren’t even wrong”.

Exactly “not even wrong” (Wolfgang Pauli) – as Panasonic is doing the cell chemistry development and not Tesla.

Not even close, sorry.

It gets very tiresome reading the false meme that cobalt = conflict mineral from the Congo.

Yes, most cobalt on the market comes from that source. But that’s not the only global source. The battery cells which Tesla uses contains no — zero, nada, nothing, zilch — cobalt sourced from the Congo.

The anti-Tesla “Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!” pack has certainly been successful in spreading the pravduh, the false meme, that Tesla’s batteries contain conflict minerals from the Congo.

Perhaps other EV makers’ batteries contain cobalt sourced from the Congo. Fortunately, Tesla’s batteries don’t.

I’d like to know the exact sources and amounts regarding Teslas buying of Cobalt. And I’d like it to be traceable and verified by an independent party.

I find it unlikely that none of the Cobalt used in Tesla cars is coming from or has come from Congo.

A lot of Cobalt is greenwashed through proxy companies and is untraceable.

Unlikely, yes, but true. Thank SEC regulation for the unlikely fact that public companies have to report their usage of conflict minerals and their efforts to ascertain said usage externally have to be verified.
Contrariwise, conflict oil requires no such reporting nor verification.
I applaud your leaning toward greenwashing suspicion, but I think it is immature and not rightly aimed.

Not related to cobalt, but I was with an environmental group in Indonesia, in the rainforest. Deep in the forest, a US sawmill was placed to cut illegal hardwood logs, and after that it was relabled as legal and shipped to Japan for example.
We registred Japanese, American, European and Chinese sawmills deep in the jungle in Borneo. It is hard to secure a supply chain as long as there are people more interested in money then the nature, working conditions, rules and regulations.
All finds were registered, but nothing seems to happen. This is like 5 years ago. People are bribed, and everything continue like before.
A lot of it was directed through companies in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, China, Japan and Kuwait. They don’t mention their source, and sells to furniture companies all over the world.

That’s like saying US made oil doesn’t increase profit for Saudi. In this global supply and demand market, it really doesn’t matter where it comes from. Virtue signaling means nothing.

I really don’t know what you’re talking about. Of course US oil reduced profit for the Saudis, just like all oil produced outside OPEC reduces their revenue (either by reducing oil price price or by forcing them to cut production to prop prices back up).

You seriously think the Saudis wouldn’t love for production from US, Russia, Nigeria, etc to drop to early 2008 levels?

Point being, if you use oil ANYWHERE, that increases demand which increase price. Same is true with Cobalt. Tesla not using DRC Cobalt still promote whatever the hell is going on there.

Would you buy clothes from a company that says: “Yeah, we know there is a lot of child labour in the industry, but we’re not going to sell child labour free clothes because that would be virtue signaling and change nothing”? Would that make you feel good wearing those clothes?

The fact that others don’t care should never be an excuse to not do the right thing.

Second thing is that if the ‘conflict free materials’ thing starts gaining traction amongst consumers (and I believe it already does), they’ll start asking questions to Nissan, GM, Hyundai, BMW, etc. about their source of cobalt. And that can cause enough of the world cobalt market to shift to conflict free materials, at which point the war zone/child labour producers could see a drop in demand.

My parents recently spent a year and a half living in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo – hint: it’s not actually democratic, and it’s not a republic, despite the name). They knew people who were involved with cobalt mining. There’s definitely a lot of messed up stuff that happens there, including Chinese companies massively cutting the salaries of cobalt miners, but since there’s no other job opportunities, people keep working for them. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if that cobalt was being shipped to China, green-washed, and sold as Chinese cobalt.

I doubt China exports cobalt directly, but certainly in the form of CATL, BYD etc. batteries.

This means earlier batteries will have more value as they reach end of life and near recycling age, when the higher amounts of Cobalt will make them more desirable for recycling.

If you could fully recover the cobalt from a recycled battery, a 2012 tesla pack could provide enough cobalt for 2.5 new battery packs.

That works. Until the batteries become totally cobalt-free. 😉

“cathodes are a mission-critical chemical compound”. Cathodes are not a compound; FeO(OH) is a compound. But you could say that the compounds used in the cathode determine efficiency etc.