The downside to lithium-iron batteries is their low energy density, although that also increases their stability and safety. But there also are a variety of high-energy batteries with cobalt-free chemistries under development.
One project at the University of Texas at Austin has created a cobalt-free battery that is 89 percent nickel, with the remainder manganese and aluminum. The prototype has a higher energy density than current batteries that use cobalt, and the project has generated a Houston-based startup, TexPower EV Technologies, to commercialize the technology.
"When you increase the nickel and reduce the cobalt, you achieve two things together: longer EV driving range and lower global costs," said Arumugam Manthiram, director of the Texas Materials Institute and Materials Science and Engineering Program at the university. He also is a partner in the TexPower startup, along with two students who worked on the project.
Manthiram told Automotive News that he'll continue to push the limits of the battery chemistry to hopefully reach 100 percent nickel. The pure nickel cathode will require some innovations to be as safe as cobalt formulations.
"All of the batteries have some safety issues," Manthiram said. "But that can be controlled by how the cell is designed and software controls."
Manthiram said LFP batteries are an important development in terms of cost and safety. But their low energy density makes them mostly useful for vehicles with modest range and price. As they stand now, LFP batteries are not going to provide 500 miles of range or be appropriate for larger, American-size vehicles. But they could work in some U.S. vehicles.