Over the past several years, many battery manufacturers gradually limited cobalt content in lithium-ion cells for electric cars, as it's an expensive cathode material.

The switch from cobalt-rich cathodes to low-cobalt cathodes was gradual and required technical progress because usually, the cobalt-rich cathodes were the best in terms of cell energy density.

The LFP (Lithium Iron Phosphate) chemistry is, for example, cobalt free, but it does not provide as high energy density as the NCM (Nickel Cobalt Manganese) or NCA (Nickel Cobalt Aluminium Oxide) families.

The latest NCM cells are NCM 811 with about 80% of nickel, 10% of cobalt and 10% of manganese. The top NCA (Tesla/Panasonic) are reportedly below 10% cobalt.

According to an interesting article by PushEVs.com, based on BASF's presentation from 2018, the second phase of improving batteries - making them more affordable per unit of capacity - is to start limiting the second most expensive cathode element: nickel.

Prices of three main elements of NCM cathodes are:

  • Cobalt: €27,000 / t
  • Nickel: €11,000 / t
  • Manganese: €2,000 / t

The next big thing in terms of affordability might be NCM 217 cathode, in which 70% is manganese, only 20% is nickel and cobalt still about 10%. At least in material cost, it should be a noticeable improvement

The hope is that NCM 217 will be as affordable as LFP, but will offer much higher energy density than the LFP, although probably not as high as the most energy-dense types of NCA/NCM.

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