Tesla: Close to Unlocking One Million Miles Per Battery?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
tesla close to unlocking one million miles per battery

In the realm of electric vehicles, there’s always a major breakthrough in battery technology just over the horizon. Such an event would make the technology more viable, likely improving EV sales to a point of true competitiveness. But the reality is that battery advancements have been incremental, with no earth-shattering advancements to speak of. The chemistry continues to be improved and fine-tuned for automotive applications — gradually lowing charging times while improving overall capacity.

On a long enough timeline, this results in electric vehicles that easily embarrass their gasoline and diesel-dependent ancestors across the board. Unfortunately, we’re living in the present where EVs have shortcomings that frequently offset their greatest attributes.

One of the biggest hurdles is long-term battery life. While some modern-day EV battery packs can last roughly as long as the powertrain in any reputable internal-combustion car, they still degrade over time, becoming progressively less useful. New research has suggested the chemistry necessary for a million-mile, lithium-ion battery has been finalized.

Researchers at Dalhousie University, which has an exclusive agreement with Tesla, recently published a paper in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society outlining the battery’s potential — which includes the ability to maintain 90 percent of its original charging capacity over its million-mile lifespan. That’s beyond impressive.

Wired, which also covered the announcement, noted that Elon Musk promised Tesla would be able to deliver something very similar last April. Led by physicist Jeff Dahn, an expert in the battery field, the Dalhousie group confidently claimed their unit outperforms any similar lithium-ion battery currently in existence by optimizing the blend of electrolytes and additives that goes into Tesla batteries.

From Wired:

Through its partnership with Tesla, Dahn’s team was tasked with creating lithium-ion batteries that can store more energy and have a longer lifetime than commercially available batteries. In electric cars, these metrics translate to how far you can drive your car on a single charge and how many charges you can get out of the battery before it stops working. Generally speaking, there’s a trade-off between energy density and battery lifetime—if you want more of one, you get less of the other. Dahn’s group was responsible for the seemingly impossible task of overcoming this trade-off.

The energy density of a lithium ion battery is one of the most important qualities in consumer electric cars like Tesla’s Model 3. Customers want to be able to drive long distances on a single charge. Tesla’s newer cars can get up to 370 miles per charge, which is well beyond the range of electric vehicles from other companies. In fact, based on the average American commute, Dahn estimates that most EV owners use only about a quarter of a charge per day. But to make a fleet of robotaxis or an empire of long-haul electric trucks, Tesla will need a battery that can handle full discharge cycles every day.

The problem is that fully discharging and recharging every day puts greater stress on the battery and degrades its components more rapidly. But simply maintaining the current lifespan of a Tesla battery pack— about 300,000 to 500,000 miles—isn’t enough. Long-haul electric trucks and robotaxis will be packing in way more daily miles than your average commuter, which is why Musk wants a battery that can last for 1 million miles.

Officially, Dahn’s team said it could not share the recipe but noted there was nothing secret about the ingredients. The battery pack in question is essentially your standard lithium-ion unit — just optimized for longevity, thanks to its particular chemistry and some massaging of the nanostructure of the battery’s cathode. Units in the paper used a lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide and artificial graphite.

Tesla and Dahn were also recently awarded a patent on a single-crystal lithium-ion battery almost identical to the cells described in the research paper. While there’s no guarantee that the patented battery is the million-mile pack from the document, it includes an electrolyte additive called “ODTO” that the patent claims enhances the performance and lifespan of Li-ion batteries while reducing cost.

[Image: JL IMAGES/Shutterstock]

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21 of 51 comments
  • R Henry R Henry on Sep 23, 2019

    Battery life hasn't been my top concern. I believe reducing recharge time is the most critical technical element to improving market penetration of BEVs. Then, recharging infrastructure is the next most important factor.

    • See 17 previous
    • ToddAtlasF1 ToddAtlasF1 on Sep 24, 2019

      @JPWhite "Battery life is very important. As other manufacturers make batteries that don’t last the distance Tesla will stand-out as the only EV worth buying." Battery life is important to the sort of people who think things through; a group which doesn't constitute an important demographic to EV charlatans. Are Taycan buyers going to insist on batteries that last longer than Porsche's water-cooled boxer engines do? How big of a story was it when Tesla was burning VC doing 50K mile warranty replacements of Model S power units? The roadblocks to acceptance by people who lease disposable luxury are range and recharge time. How long the battery lasts is about as meaningful to sales volume as insulated pizza cartons are to obesity.

  • Rick Astley Rick Astley on Sep 24, 2019

    Cool, great story. Now please do tell, what were the advances in battery RECYCLING? Any investment or effort from the manufacturers or at least a design which has full-life-cycle in mind instead of just unchecked production? No? Nothing? I get it that the technology is developing at a faster generational rate than the vehicle or motor, but this is not making a terribly effective argument for electrification. "Tesla, we're committed to billions of tons of un-recyclable batteries thrown in a landfill somewhere and making a ton of money".

    • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Sep 25, 2019

      That is a good question. Part of the Gigafactory's cost advantage was to be able to recycle old Tesla batteries, and little has been said about that for years. On the other hand, since the oldest Model S is only 7 years old, and volume was low back then, there may not be many batteries to recycle yet. Either way, recycling lithium batteries (especially your own) makes the material life cycle of the EV more appealing.

  • MaintenanceCosts I saw my first IS500 out in the wild today (a dark-grey-on-black example) and it struck me that it was much more AMG-like than this product. (Great-looking and -sounding car.)
  • ToolGuy https://youtu.be/Jd0io1zktqI
  • Art Vandelay Props for trying something different. EVs should work well in this sort of race. The similar series running ICE run short distances like that
  • ToolGuy Well they wet the track down using sea water - from the South Pacific Ocean. Oceans may have a large amount of water, but it isn't infinite, is it? No, it isn't. So if this sport really takes off, what will happen when the ocean is drained? (And once you put the water on the dirt, how does it ever get back to the ocean?)
  • Bobbysirhan Some friends of mine were dazzled by a CUE demo that circulated on YouTube before this car reached the market. I was bewildered why anyone wanted a car as durable and dependable as their cellphones, but to each their own. One of them did actually show up with an XTS V-sport when the car first came out. He showed people CUE in my driveway, but I don't recall him offering demonstration rides to the assembled imported luxury car drivers. In the months that followed, I never saw or heard about the Cadillac again. He went back to driving his Yukon Denali until I moved away a year or two later.