Tesla: Close to Unlocking One Million Miles Per Battery?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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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]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

Consumer advocate tracking industry trends, regulation, and the bitter-sweet nature of modern automotive tech. Research focused and gut driven.

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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.

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    • 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.

  • Charles When I lived in Los Angeles I saw a 9-5 a few times and instanly admired the sweeping low slug aerodynamic jet tech influenced lines and all that beautiful glass. The car was very different from what I expected from a Saab even though the 900 Turbo was nice. A casual lady friend had a Saab Sonnet, never drove or rode in it but nonetheless chilled my enthusiasm and I eventually forgot about Saabs. In the following years I have had seven Mercedes's, three or four Jaguars even two Daimlers both the 250 V-8 and the massive and powerful Majestic Major. Daily drivers of a brand new 300ZX 2+2 and Lincolns, plus a few diesel trucks. Having moved to my big farm in central New York, trucks and SUV's are the standard, even though I have a Mercedes S500 in one of my barns. Due to circumstances with my Ford Explorer and needing a second driver I found the 2006 9-5 locally. Very little surface rust, none undercarriage, original owner, garage kept, wife driver and all the original literature and a ton of paid receipts and history. The car just turned 200,000 miles and I love it. Feels new like I'm back in my Nissan 300ZX with a lot more European class and ready power with the awesome turbo. So fun to drive, the smooth power and torque is incredible! Great price paid to justify going through the car and giving her everything she needs, i.e., new tires, battery, all shocks, struts, control arms, timing chain and rust removable to come, plus more. The problem now is I want to restore it and likely put it in my concrete barn and only drive in good weather. As to the writer, Alex Dykes, I take great exception calling the 9-5 Saab "ugly," finding myself looking back at her beauty and uniqueness. Moreover, I get new looks from others not quite recognizing, like the days out west with my more expensive European cars. There are Saabs eclipsing 300K rourinely and one at a million miles and I believe one car with 500K on the original engine. So clearly, this is a keeper, in love already with my SportCombi. I want to be in that elite club.
  • Marky S. I own the same C.C. XSE Hybrid AWD as in this article, but in Barcelona Red with the black roof. I love my car for its size, packaging, and the fact that it offers both AWD and Hybrid technology together. Visibility is impressive, as is its small turning circle. I consider the C.C. more of a "station wagon" by proportion, rather than an “SUV.” It is fun to drive, with zippy response and perky pick-up. It is a pleasant car to drive and ride in. It is not trying to be a “Butch Off-Roader”, or a cosseting “Luxury Cruiser.” Those are not its goals or purpose. The Corolla Cross XSE Hybrid AWD is a wonderful All-Purpose Car (O.K. – “SUV” if you must hear me say it!) with a combination of all the features it has at a reasonable price.
  • Ernesto Perez There's a line in the movie Armageddon where Bruce Willis says " is this the best idea NASA came up with?". Don't quote me. I'm asking is this the best idea NY came up with? What's next? Charging pedestrians to walk in certain parts of the city? Every year the price for everything gets more expensive and most of the services we pay for gets worse. Obviously more money is not the solution. What we need are better ideas, strategies and inventions. You want to charge drivers in the city - then put tolls on the free bridges like the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. There's always a better way or product. It's just the idiots on top think they know best.
  • Carsofchaos The bike lanes aren't even close to carrying "more than the car lanes replaced". You clearly don't drive in Midtown Manhattan on a daily like I do.
  • Carsofchaos The problem with congestion, dear friends, is not the cars per se. I drive into the city daily and the problem is this:Your average street in the area used to be 4 lanes. Now it is a bus lane, a bike lane (now you're down to two lanes), then you have delivery trucks double parking, along with the Uber and Lyft drivers also double parking. So your 4 lane avenue is now a 1.5 lane avenue. Do you now see the problem? Congestion pricing will fix none of these things....what it WILL do is fund persion plans.