Tour of Tesla battery gigafactory for invited owners, Reno, Nevada, July 2016
As other battery scientists are working to develop the solid-state lithium batteries of tomorrow, technology entrepreneur Kenan Sahin is working to make the batteries of today more affordable.
Sahin announced at a conference in Berlin this week that his company TIAX has invented a new battery compound that he calls GEMX that reduced the need for cobalt in the battery cathodes, according to a Bloomberg report.
Cobalt prices are one of the main concerns of electric car makers who are counting on mass production of batteries and their lithium ingredients to bring prices of electric cars down to the point that they can compete against conventional cars without subsidies.
While batteries require more lithium than cobalt, lithium supplies are stable and new sources are coming online.
Cobalt is mined only in the Democratic Republic of Congo and has been tied to child labor in the country. Cobalt prices have tripled since 2015.
Sahin says his new material can reduce the amount of cobalt in battery cathodes from about 20 percent to as little as 4 percent, which could result in dramatic cost savings for electric cars.
The invention plays into the hands of major battery manufacturers as well as automakers. Panasonic, which supplies batteries for Teslas, has said it is committed to eliminating cobalt from its batteries "in the near future."
In 2016, Sahin provided a key cathode compound based on lithium nickel-oxide to German electronics giant BASF. It's unclear whether BASF is one of Sahin's new customers.
Sahin says his company already has one major automaker signed up to use the technology. “We’re hoping we will get this into the hands of the major producers,” Sahin told Bloomberg in a phone interview.