Tech Insights

Tesla Kicks Off Future of LFP Batteries in EVs

April 26, 2023 by Kevin Clemens

Despite some disadvantages, lithium iron phosphate batteries are becoming a growing part of the EV market.

Tesla’s recent announcement that it will build a “light” shorter-range version of its upcoming Semi heavy-duty truck using lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries instead of lithium batteries with nickel and cobalt cathodes is significant. LFPs are lithium-ion batteries using iron phosphate as the cathode material. They are known for their long life, safety, and affordability. 


Tesla Semi

Tesla Semi. Image used courtesy of Tesla


Tesla CEO Elon Musk has praised LFP battery technology, saying that "the heavy lifting for electrification will be iron-based cells."

Tesla uses prismatic LFP cells made by China's Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) for its Model Y EV built at its Shanghai plant and has discussed building a plant with the Chinese battery giant in the U.S. Tesla offers an LFP battery pack in the U.S. on its base Model 3 RWD using cells imported from China. Ford Motor Company has announced plans to construct a plant in Michigan to build LFP cells using technology licensed from CATL. 


Pluses and Minuses

LFP batteries have been around longer than nickel-based batteries, first developed in the 1990s. The energy density and power output of LFP cells were limited, however, so researchers developed cathodes (positive electrodes) using combinations of nickel, cobalt, and manganese (NMC) or aluminum (NCA) in the 2000s. While more expensive and less stable than LFP chemistries, these batteries had higher energy density (more energy storage for the same weight and volume), making them better suited for high-performance applications. 

With primary goals of longer range and higher performance for electric vehicles, over the past decade, car company engineers have looked to take advantage of nickel-based cathodes. But nickel- and cobalt-based cathodes are more expensive, and their higher energy levels make them unstable and more likely to catch fire if they are abused or over or undercharged. 

Table 1 features some of the characteristics of the three most commonly used lithium battery chemistries.


Table 1. Characteristics of commonly used lithium battery chemistries

Characteristics of commonly used lithium battery chemistries



Overall, LFP batteries are a good option for applications where cost and safety are primary concerns. NMC and NCA batteries are a better option where energy density and performance are primary. For example, EVs increasingly use LFP batteries as a more cost-effective and sustainable alternative to traditional lithium-ion batteries.


Major Players Switch to LFP

Due to their long life, safety, and affordability, Tesla, Ford, and other major automakers are switching to LFP batteries in some of their EV models. Tesla uses LFP batteries in its Model 3 Standard Range Plus and Model Y Standard Range models. Ford has announced plans to use LFP batteries in its Mustang Mach-E later this year, and the F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck model will get them as an option next year. Other automakers using LFP batteries include BYD, CATL, and Nio.

The disadvantages of the shorter range LFP brings to an EV might not be a problem, considering the average daily round-trip commute in the U.S. is less than 45 miles, and the development of an extensive EV charging infrastructure can make long trips possible, even with the slightly shorter range of LFP equipped EVs.  

Tesla’s decision to use LFP in its Semi Light means the truck will have a 300-mile range per charge, rather than the 500-mile range of the version of the Tesla Semi that uses nickel-based lithium cells. The longer lifespan of the LFP cells will allow the trucks to operate significantly longer than those equipped with nickel cathodes. The ability to absorb more abuse should make the LFP trucks safer in the tough environment of short-haul deliveries. 


Tesla. Image used courtesy of Pixabay


The Future of LFP

Another advantage that LFP presents over nickel and cobalt-based chemistry batteries is that they are somewhat easier to recycle. However, their iron, phosphate, and lithium have nowhere near the value of nickel and cobalt in NMC and NCA batteries. This could mean LFP battery recycling will be less profitable and, therefore, less attractive to companies specializing in EV battery recycling. 

Ultimately, deciding whether to use LFP batteries in EVs is complex and depends on a variety of factors, including battery cost, range requirements, and charging infrastructure availability. The most probable solution is a mixture of battery chemistries, including NMC and NCA for high performance and long-range, and LFP for the more typical and affordable EVs arriving in the future.