Elon Musk revealed at the opening of Giga Berlin in March that Tesla is considering manganese for its potential in mass-producing Li-Ion batteries. High-manganese chemistries allow cutting down on nickel use, which is both expensive and difficult to source. Musk wants Tesla to operate at a giga-scale and for that, it needs batteries that use abundant raw materials.
“At very large scale, we need tens, maybe hundreds of millions of tons ultimately. So the materials used to produce these batteries at a very large scale need to be common materials or you can’t scale,” said Musk at the Giga Berlin opening.
Giga Berlin opening was not the first time Musk talked about manganese. Back in 2020, at Tesla Battery Day, Musk expressed optimism about the mineral.
“It is relatively straightforward to do a cathode that’s two-thirds nickel and one-third manganese, which will allow us to make 50 percent more cell volume with the same amount of nickel,” Musk said.
Manganese is not new for Li-Ion battery production, and this is also its main problem. Nissan used a manganese-reach battery for the first-generation Leaf, and that proved to be its Achille’s heel. With no thermal management, the energy-poor packs had a short lifecycle, with the already limited range degrading fast, especially in hot climates like the southwestern U.S.
But that was more than ten years ago, and the batteries have improved a lot since then. Despite their lower energy density, high-manganese batteries still fare better than LFP cells. Improved manganese batteries would sit right between LFP and high-nickel batteries, both in terms of price and energy density, according to IEEE.org.
Volkswagen is very excited about manganese too. CEO Herbert Diess, a longtime Musk fan, unveiled plans for a versatile “unified cell” during the company’s Power Day event in March. The new batteries would be able to use multiple chemistries, including iron and manganese. Oh, and he said they are of the prismatic type, which sent Volkswagen’s partners LGES and SK Innovation in panic mode, as they only supply pouch-type cells.
As Musk indicated, high-manganese batteries would use half the nickel and no cobalt. Volkswagen thinks their lithium nickel manganese oxide chemistry could reduce cathode costs by 47 percent compared to nickel-rich designs. And since the unified cells can use multiple chemistries, Volkswagen would be able to cover a wide price range with their batteries. This means using LFP batteries for the most affordable models, high-manganese for mainstream models, and keeping the high-nickel type batteries for the performance models.
The importance of manganese is huge, considering that raw materials availability and prices are now a limiting factor in ramping up Li-ion battery production. Replacing all the vehicles with battery-powered equivalent would require 300 terawatt-hours of batteries, as Musk suggested, and nickel would not scale, despite its big energy density and performance. Manganese might be our best solution, for now, being fairly abundant and cheap.