As one of the breakthroughs in power battery technology, the cobalt-free battery was released by a company only 2 years old after being hype by Tesla and Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL), China's largest automotive lithium-ion battery maker.
On May 18, SVOLT Energy unveiled two cobalt-free batteries, one of which has a range of up to 880 kilometers, scheduled to hit the market as early as June 2021.
In the pre-launch phase, SVOLT Energy even touted the performance of cobalt-free batteries in high profile comparisons with companies like CATL, BYD and Tesla.
SVOLT Energy was founded in February 2018 as a separate business unit from the power cell division of leading independent brand company Great Wall Motor, and plans to open its market operations with high-end power cells.
In July 2019, SVOLT Energy externally announced product plans for laminated process, cobalt-free material and tetrameric material cells.
In November 2019, the first phase of its Changzhou Jintan power cell factory project was officially put into operation. This release is the latest advancement in cobalt-free batteries by SVOLT Energy.
Cobalt is one of the important elements of the anode material of the ternary lithium battery, which mainly plays a role in stabilizing the structure and accounts for 30% of the cost of the anode material.
However, due to the limited global reserves of cobalt and its concentrated regional distribution, it is believed to affect the long-term stable development of new energy vehicles.
From 2016 to 2018, with the rapid explosion of the new energy vehicle industry, the body price of cobalt has also continued to rise, rising from $20,000 to $90,000 per ton. The industry predicts that cobalt will be in short supply after 2026 if recycling is not considered.
In order to reduce costs and break the limited resources, global battery suppliers and car companies are doing their best to reduce cobalt or even "de-cobaltize" in battery product development.
Among the two mainstream technology lines of power battery, the energy density of ternary lithium battery with advantages from NCM111, NCM523, NCM622 to NCM811, the proportion of cobalt is gradually decreasing.
The other route of lithium iron phosphate battery itself does not contain cobalt, but the energy density is naturally short, so car companies try to compensate through structural innovation, such as BYD this year launched the blade structure of lithium iron phosphate battery.
For the complete de-cobaltization of ternary lithium batteries, both power battery giants have released the latest information this year and pushed cobalt-free batteries into the industry hotspot.
On February 18, Tesla said it would develop new batteries independently, with a possible zero cobalt content. The signal of this technical course correction then had an immediate effect on the share prices of the upstream suppliers.
Ningde Times recently also said at the 2019 earnings presentation that the company has cobalt-free battery technology reserves, and is currently making good progress in research and development, and is thinking of ways to improve the supply chain.
"Achieving cobalt-free is about reducing the cost of materials, but the reduction is actually very limited, so the cell manufacturers didn't focus on that before.
It's safe to say that everyone's focus on cobalt-free materials is due to the fact that Tesla is leading the way this year, and Tesla's Super Battery Day is likely to release some relevant results." A senior battery industry analyst said.
How cobalt-free is SVOLT Energy, the product that beat out CATLand Tesla for release?
According to the release, SVOLT Energy's cobalt-free batteries use lithium nickel manganate material. this
A technology that had a theoretical basis 20 years ago, but was limited by problems with electrolyte and cycling properties, has not been industrialized.
SVOLT Energy's three key technologies, cation doping, single crystal technology, and nano-networked envelope, enable these batteries to be used at scale.
According to SVOLT Energy to the media, its cobalt-free battery energy density is basically the same as ternary lithium battery, and safety is better than ternary lithium battery, but not as good as lithium iron, and the cost is expected to be about the same as lithium iron, or slightly higher, definitely lower than ternary lithium battery.
The first of the two products released by SVOLT Energy has a capacity of 115Ah and an energy density of 245wh/kg, and a 15-year warranty of 1.2 million kilometers on the complete vehicle side.
The other battery has a capacity of 225Ah, and the NEDC range is up to 880km under simulated conditions, using the B-Class car as a model.
Despite pioneering cobalt-free batteries, SVOLT Energy's technology route has sparked controversy in the industry.
"It's hard for ternary materials to achieve excellent performance without cobalt, and SVOLT Energy is not really ternary to remove cobalt, but rather to find a class of materials that do not contain cobalt in the first place. If it's truly ternary de-cobaltized, then the energy density should be higher than ternary lithium batteries, while SVOLT Energy's cobalt-free batteries have an energy density between ternary and lithium iron phosphate." said a senior analyst of the battery industry.
The president of real lithium research Mo Ke also said in a media interview a few days ago, at present from the technical level cannot achieve the real sense of cobalt-free for the time being, it is estimated that in the next two to three years, no battery factory in the world can do.
"Cobalt resources are scarce resources, the content of the earth's crust is less than lithium, the current research and development of cobalt-free materials are mainly considered from the perspective of future resource security, but the current stage of China's new energy vehicle market size is still too early to consider this issue, of course, from the perspective of technology to reserve cobalt-free battery technology is necessary." A senior analyst of the battery industry believes that the promotion of cobalt-free batteries at this stage does not rule out the suspicion of excessive publicity.
For the launch of SVOLT Energy, some industry insiders analyzed that, in addition to the first name to attract customers, do not rule out the purpose of attracting investment.
In April this year, SVOLT Energy announced the introduction of strategic investment from China Investment Promotion Investment Management Company Limited, and the company is in the first round of financing and plans to apply for listing on the Science and Technology Venture Exchange in 2022.
From the application side, SVOLT Energy's cobalt-free battery technology is different from lithium iron phosphate and lithium ternary batteries, can this help it realize its ambition of "entering the top three power batteries in the country"?
In the past two years, the domestic power battery has formed a stable head pattern dominated by CATL, BYD, GuoXuanGaoKe, but with Tesla's domestic and new energy vehicle penetration rate, the pattern is considered to be expected to reshape.
In April this year, South Korea's LG Chem ranked second in the country in shipments. Globally, LG Chem bounced back in the first quarter to take first place over Tesla. At present, power battery companies are scrambling to launch more competitive products, grabbing a huge market cake in the future.