Finding Sustainable Sources, and Substitutes, for Rare Earth Minerals is Critical

August 12, 2022

The irresponsible sourcing of rare-earth and other minerals has been used as a cudgel against the energy transition. But the fact is, these minerals have been critical components of a whole host of non-clean technologies for a long time. For instance, cobalt, in addition to being used in lithium ion batteries, has long been a key ingredient for desulfurization of gasoline.

So it’s not about whether we are going to use more rare earths – we are going to. But pushing companies to pay attention to sourcing is going to be critical.
Where we can, finding substitutes is a great idea too, and is being done. One example would be how battery manufacturers are moving away from lithium ion and towards lithium iron phosphate batteries, which do not use cobalt and nickel, two increasingly problematic and expensive minerals.

Don’t underestimate the potential for more of this substitution as more engineers get pulled into this space.

Electrek:

Tesla confirmed that nearly half of all its vehicles produced last quarter are already using cobalt-free iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries.

The information also gives us an interesting insight into Tesla’s mix of models, which is generally quite opaque.

Over the last few years, CEO Elon Musk has said multiple times that Tesla plans to shift more electric cars to LFP batteries in order to overcome nickel and cobalt supply concerns.

Iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, which don’t use nickel or cobalt, are traditionally cheaper and safer, but they offer less energy density, which means less efficient and shorter range for electric vehicles.

However, they have improved enough recently that it now makes sense to use cobalt-free batteries in lower-end and shorter-range vehicles.

It also frees up the production of battery cells with other, more energy-dense chemistries to produce more longer-range vehicles.

Tesla already moved its Standard Range Model 3 and Model Y produced in China to LFP cells.

Below, video describes Ford’s transition to LFP batteries.

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One Response to “Finding Sustainable Sources, and Substitutes, for Rare Earth Minerals is Critical”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    One example would be how battery manufacturers are moving away from lithium ion and towards lithium iron phosphate batteries, which do not use cobalt and nickel, two increasingly problematic and expensive minerals.

    Unless our billionaires (and KoBold and Bluebird) make a success of sourcing from Greenland, no abused laborers needed.


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