Tesla started offering electric cars with a new battery chemistry in some areas fairly recently: Lithium iron phosphate (LFP). While it's not actually new in terms of development and deployment in vehicles, it's new to some Tesla cars in some areas. Now, according to CEO Elon Musk, the company may be moving forward with another chemistry that uses a manganese-based cathode.
Musk has made it pretty clear over the years that he doesn't really believe in "battery breakthroughs," at least in the traditional sense. This is to say that he's not expecting some crazy new battery format to revolutionize the EV industry overnight. Companies have been working on solid-state batteries for years, and while they're reported as breakthroughs often, they're still not being used in production electric cars.
That said, Tesla has certainly been playing around with different battery chemistries. One of the advantages of electric cars over gas cars is the ability to produce battery cells with various materials. This is not only helpful if a certain material is difficult to get or too expensive, but it can also help battery makers with safety, efficiency, longevity, performance, and responsible and sustainable sourcing.
Depending on a battery's chemistry, it may be more efficient and/or provide better performance, among many other variables. The goal would be to secure a chemistry that offers the absolute best balance between performance and efficiency, while also being safe, long-lasting, as energy-dense as possible, and being relatively easy to recycle.
Musk recently delivered a lengthy speech to Tesla factory workers at the grand opening of the company's new Gigafactory near Berlin, Germany. He also took the time to answer questions from attendees. We've published an article highlighting the speech, and also included the video above. It's full of new juicy morsels of information about Tesla's present and future.
During the speech, Musk shared that an industry focus on battery supply chain materials is paramount to the future of EVs. One attendee asked Musk about graphene-based batteries. The CEO noted the complexity of dealing with graphene before confirming that Tesla will continue to rely on nickel-based battery chemistries for longer-range cars and LFP for shorter-range versions. He also mentioned the potential for using manganese. Musk said via Electrek:
“I think there’s an interesting potential for manganese.”
While this may have come as a surprise to some folks, Electrek reminds us that Musk talked about manganese back at the company's Battery Day in 2020, when he was revealing Tesla's 4680 battery cell concept. Musk shared:
“It is relatively straightforward to do a cathode that’s two-third nickel and one-third manganese, which will allow us to make 50% more cell volume with the same amount of nickel.”
Beyond the earlier comment and the mention of manganese in his recent speech, not much is known about Tesla's potential for future manganese-based batteries. However, the CEO did make it abundantly clear that in order for Tesla to scale in a massive way, it needs to use materials that are common.
According to Electrek, Tesla isn't the only company looking into the use of manganese for batteries. Many research groups have already published studies about the use of manganese-based cathodes for higher energy density and reduced costs. Check out the articles highlighting manganese below.