By on September 23, 2019

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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51 Comments on “Tesla: Close to Unlocking One Million Miles Per Battery?...”


  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    If they’re still using cobalt as a cathode material, they’re still in the child slavery business. They need to be stopped.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Tesla’s batteries are down to 3% or less cobalt content – less than any other mfr, and less than your laptop.

      IIRC, mfrs are taking steps to avoid ‘blood cobalt’.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Some are, some aren’t. They all should. Supply chain management is hard, but the answer is doing it, not shutting down the business.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        Who says I have a laptop? Suppose I do. Suppose its battery cathode is 100% cobalt from the sort of child slavery mines that Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew think about when they’re touching themselves. Would that battery really be more than 3% of the size of the battery pack in a Tesla?

        • 0 avatar
          PandaBear

          You have a smart phone too don’t you? Shame on you.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            It seems to me that we’re much more likely to find a solution to the battery cathode issue that is scalable for tiny cell phone batteries than we are to find one where we can replace a billion cars with EVs that have 80kW batteries without enslaving children as if we were the DNC’s biggest donors.

      • 0 avatar
        thx_zetec

        Tesla batteries are less % cobalt – but they weigh much more than laptop battery, more than 100x more.

        A Tesla will use 6-9 kg of cobalt, call this 20 lbs. At 20 bucks per lb this is 400 bucks.

        OK Tesla only sources Cobalt from approved sources but elements are largely fungible – will raise prices and pull more supply from all sources, good and bad. The first law of cobalt – it can neither be created or destroyed.

        China is working on locking up the world supply of cobalt, as well as battery manufacture. The free world is at risk of being more dependent on China than we are OPEC.

        We really need a Co-free formulation. Supposedly Musk is working on this too.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      Tesla doesn’t use cobalt from sources that employ child labor. They’ve published reports on the sources of their materials. Take some time to find and read them before making accusations.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I was going to say that this isn’t the problem most have with batteries. In most cases they will outlast the cars they are in. Recharge time and range are more pressing to most would be adopters. However for long haul trucks and fleets It is an issue and given that the rest of the driveline doesn’t really wear out, this could offer a significant advantage cost wise for electrics over the lifetime of such a vehicle. Good stuff. Hopefully independent testing bears out these claims.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Do these million mile batteries also survive the battery fires that torch the rest of the car?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      You’ll have to wait for solid-state or semi-solid state for that. How’s the research coming along on ICE motors and fuel tanks surviving fires? Not a problem anyway on a Tesla since if you leave it on autopilot, it’s designed to only crash into stopped fire trucks. :^)

  • avatar
    tonycd

    It should be pointed out that Tesla and Musk have a rich history the last few years of vaporware promises. It’s how he props up the stock price in the face of his company’s inability to build cars, despite inheriting one of the world’s most modern auto plants essentially for free, or support them with service. If your antidepressants need a booster, ook up his “plan” for underground mass transit in Chicago.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Please name some Tesla vaporware. AFAIK, they have produced everything promised so far – just not on time.

      BTW, Tesla produces ~70% of the US BEV fleet. How is it that they can’t produce electric cars?

      But I’ll agree that the Boring Company is ridiculous.

      • 0 avatar
        2manycars

        What Tesla has been unable to produce is profits. Without the carbon credit scam Musk’s vampire company would have folded a long time ago.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          If you’re truly interested in Tesla’s relationship to carbon credits, here’s a good (brief) read:

          https://www.businessinsider.com/criticism-of-tesla-selling-emission-credits-proves-analysts-dont-understand-its-business-2019-5

          Tesla didn’t invent the carbon credit scam, by the way, but they benefit the most because other mfrs simply can’t do what they do.

          Also, Tesla’s position wouldn’t be much different without the carbon credit revenue. Its 12-month revenue at the end of June 2019 was $24 billion; $200 million in carbon credit revenue is only about 1% of their revenue.

          • 0 avatar
            thx_zetec

            “Tesla didn’t invent the carbon credit scam, by the way, but they benefit the most because other mfrs simply can’t do what they do.”

            OK so the other mfrs can’t lose billions even with subsidies. Tesla can, it just keeps selling more stock. Seriously who wants to lose this much money selling expensive cars? There is only so much demand for a 45,000 dollar Accord w/ less long range capability.

            I know there is the long term . . . but that is a lot of money and lost profits. Ford has to sell the F150 to keep the lights on.

            “Also, Tesla’s position wouldn’t be much different without the carbon credit revenue. Its 12-month revenue at the end of June 2019 was $24 billion; $200 million in carbon credit revenue is only about 1% of their revenue.”

            1% of revenues as cash payment is pretty good actually – and they still lose money. Note that this subsidy comes some regular car buyers to subsidize plutocrats.

        • 0 avatar
          cgeorgan

          That scam has a flip side, which is the fact that we don’t capture (and offset/tax) all of the obvious negative externalities associated with ICE use of hydrocarbons.

          If you don’t tax one (carbon) then you need to subsidize the other. If you want the other (EV) to stand on its own merits, then hydrocarbons need to be taxed to the full extent of their impact.

          • 0 avatar
            2manycars

            I don’t buy that argument for a split-second. It’s as bogus as a 3-dollar bill.

            I don’t see these “obvious negative externalities” associated with hydrocarbons, and utterly reject your hypothesis that we need an armed criminal gang (“government”) to steal (“tax”) in the name of this “impact” that lives in the minds of persons that adhere to a particular political philosophy. In point of fact, hydrocarbon fuels are ideal and enjoy an energy density and ease of “recharge” far beyond that attainable with any current battery technology.

            Bottom line is that Tesla is a vampire company, that exists only due to its ability to forcibly mulct funds from profitable concerns thanks to the actions of the aforementioned criminal gang.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      tonycd,

      Are we allowed to talk about GM in the context of brilliant technical innovations that never make it to the street?

    • 0 avatar
      Oreguy

      So the car I’ve been driving to and from work every day for the past year is actually just vapor? GTFOH!

      Why wasn’t I told this?

    • 0 avatar
      thx_zetec

      Musk is an idiot who promises impossible things – and delivers sometimes. See the two falcon heavy boosters land – simultaneously – on a pad convinced me that Musk sometimes is more than talk.

      the underground transit thing *might* work – if anyone gave it a chance. LA has a huge traffic mess that is getting worse – yet they shut down his experimental tunnels based on complaints from “community organizers” (a.k.a. people who make a living complaining). US cities won’t give Musk a chance – he is taking his show to China.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Stories about Amazing Battery Breakthroughs are common enough, that anybody paying attention to such things has long since learned to simply ignore them until they are incorporated into shipping product. If you combine all the various claimed breakthroughs together over the past decade or so, I should be able to run my house for a month off of something about as large as a lawn tractor battery.

    Certainly you can’t trust a damn thing His Muskiness claims until it’s something you can actually get delivered. (I was going to say “thing you can actually buy”, but paying Tesla for something doesn’t mean you can have it when promised. ($35k Model 3, “Full Autonomous Mode”, etc.))

  • avatar
    Lokki

    Yawn – wake me up when it actually happens

    In the meantime, here’s a little light reading from [strike] ELON MUSK [/strike]TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTRIC RUNABOUT (or The Speediest Car on the Road)

    ”Where is your new battery, Tom?”

    “Out in my shop, running yet if it hasn’t been frightened by the airship smash,” replied the lad, somewhat proudly. “It’s an oxide of nickel battery, with steel and oxide of iron negative electrodes.”

    “What solution do you use, Tom?” asked Mr. Swift. “I didn’t get that far in questioning you before the crash came,” he added.

    “Well I have, in the experimental battery, a solution of potassium hydrate,” replied the lad, “but I think I’m going to change it, and add some lithium hydrate to it. I think that will make it stronger.”

    About how far do you expect your car will go with one charging of the battery?”

    “Well, if I can make it do three hundred miles I’ll be satisfied, but I’m going to try for four hundred.”

    “What will you do when your battery runs out?”

    “Recharge it.”

    “Suppose you’re not near a charging station?”

    “Well, Dad, of course those are some of the details I’ve got to work out. I’m planning a register gauge now, that will give warning about fifty miles before the battery is run down. That will leave me a margin to work on. And I’m going to have it fixed so I can take current from any trolley line, as well as from a regular charging station. My battery will be capable of being recharged very quickly, or, in case of need, I can take out the old cells and put in new ones.

    So, a little more than 100 years later, we’re finally about to catch up with Tom Swift and his 1911 predictions.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      That’s a yeomanly deep dive into vintage sci-fi there! For all we know, that’s one more source where Musk got his inspiration. (We know he’s a Tintin fan.)

      The novel even includes corrupt bankers trying to cause havoc (the shorts?).

      If the novel holds true, then Elon/Tom will win in the end. I guess we’ll find out!

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      Lokki,

      Awesome post – thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Traffic will not be a problem either. Tom’s cars will be on his Repeletron Skyway over the jungle that Burlow Engineering couldn’t do…Road will be safe, too as his special grigris (sp) lightning rods are on there protecting the road from crashing to the ground like his first one did…

      That came out of some dark area in my head…

  • avatar
    R Henry

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      ravenuer

      Agree.
      LOL, when I first glanced at the headline, my mind thought “a million-mile range”? Then I read it.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      For the miles I drive daily, I charge about 2 hours overnight in my garage.

      Surprisingly, I don’t have to stand out in the freezing cold to do so, or wait for the driver in front of me to return to their car after buying lottery tickets inside the store, or stand in puddles of spilled coffee and gasoline.

      On the downside, I spend about 5 seconds twice a day to pop the filler door and install (then later remove!) the charging cord. So in a month, I spend about 5 minutes of actual activity refilling my car so I can drive 1100 miles. It’s barely tolerable.

      • 0 avatar
        Tele Vision

        I, too, spend about five minutes a month refuelling my cars. I certainly don’t do it in my garage, though. At night. All night. Unattended.

      • 0 avatar
        jalop1991

        “Surprisingly, I don’t have to stand out in the freezing cold to do so, or wait for the driver in front of me to return to their car after buying lottery tickets inside the store, or stand in puddles of spilled coffee and gasoline.”

        Well, there is that couple of minutes every 300 miles that I stand outside. Sometimes it’s cold, sometimes it’s very pleasant. Whatever.

        But nor do I wait for the driver in front of me to return to his car after buying lottos/smokes/Red Bull, or stand in puddles of spilled coffee and gasoline.

        It’s called using the correct fuel station. Works every time. Costco. Ever heard of it? Try it sometime. It’s amazing. Fuel only–get in, get out. And I have 300-400 miles of range in a couple of minutes, all without the drama you describe in your electromotive infomercial.

        On the other hand, if I’m in the dark depths of inner Virginia on the way to the east coast, if I absolutely have to stand in a puddle of spilled coffee to get gas I will–because I can. I don’t have to scratch around with 25 miles of range showing, begging on forums for someone to lend me a charge, or just flat-out park on someone’s front yard and plug a cord into the outlet in the front of his house and then disappear while the car trickle charges.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          If pumping gas really were as trying as these delicate flowers try to make it sound, there would still be full-service stations on every corner. As it is, I’m left wondering what else they can’t handle. Life must be very hard indeed.

          • 0 avatar
            jalop1991

            Oh my, absolutely! Special snowflakes indeed. Can’t pump gas without horrible anxiety.

            I’m sure it relates to “can’t interact in person with other people without extreme anxiety”.

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            “If pumping gas really were as trying as these delicate flowers try to make it sound, there would still be full-service stations on every corner.”

            I used to pump gas for a living, 40 years ago – 1000 gallons in a 4-hour shift, maybe 100-200 customers, sun or snow. Credit cards were run across carbon paper in downpours. I checked fluids on overheated, leaky engines, and filled tires in the rain.

            Thankfully, those jobs disappeared because it’s uneconomical to pay even minimum wage workers when you’re only making a few pennies per gallon profit.

            So I’m not afraid of the effort, but it can be unpleasant. Believe me – after driving an EV for a couple months, you don’t miss the gas station or the expense. Quick and available refills are the *only* advantage to driving an ICE.

          • 0 avatar
            R Henry

            It is called snark, and I am not really in the mood for it today either.

        • 0 avatar
          Dan

          “It’s called using the correct fuel station. Works every time. Costco. Ever heard of it? Try it sometime. It’s amazing. ”

          Costco is the Black Friday of gas stations, unless it’s a Tuesday at 10:30AM there’s a line six cars deep at every pump. The absolute last place I would ever gas up, my dignity has a price but it’s more than 4 bucks.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            “Costco”: Yeah, someone I know that gases up there tells me he sometimes waits 15 minutes in line there.

            ” I don’t have to scratch around with 25 miles of range showing, begging on forums for someone to lend me a charge, or just flat-out park on someone’s front yard and plug a cord into the outlet in the front of his house and then disappear while the car trickle charges.”

            I haven’t had any of those experiences in 5 years/90k miles of EV driving either.

            As far as the Virginia trip goes. If you were traveling along either from let’s say Bristol VA to VIrginia beach, you’d have two routes one of which appears to be route 58. Either way, you could cover the 400+ miles in a 300 mile range EV with just one stop and any one of the numerous chademo/ccs chargers of Tesla Superchargers along both routes. If you go 81 to 64, there are loads of quick chargers and Tesla Superchargers in Roanoke, Staunton, Charlottesville, and the Richmond area. Don’t see the problem you’re describing.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            I have lived where Costco gas isn’t a viable option, but it certainly is in the places I go now. Over the past three years, I’ve been frequenting Costco gas in Charlottesville, Newport News, Norfolk, and Fredericksburg. I’ve never had to wait at any of them, although sometimes I have to use the passenger side pumps and pull the hose across my car which works just fine. I only bought Costco gas twice in my decade in California. The lines were as described above, which just goes to show what high energy costs do to quality of life.

      • 0 avatar
        ravenuer

        Every gas station I’ve gone to(except Jersey), I pay at the pump. I don’t stand in line.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          Let me explain a little as to where I’m coming from. I frequently travel to a work location that’s a long distance away from home. I have an EV that has enough range to make it to the facility without stopping. I charge while I’m there working, then head back home fully fueled. Then charge overnight at home and repeat the cycle.

          I have co-workers that for whatever reason, usually need to fill their cars before making the trip back. Not every day of course, but it happens a lot. The fact that they’re headed into heavy stop and go traffic is part of it because they’ll burn more fuel. The gas station is just outside the location at a traffic light. So, frequently in all kinds of weather, I’m waving goodbye to them in my nice warm car at the light while they’re pumping away at the gas station. That scenario made me realize the advantage of fueling at home. Seeing my friends out there freezing standing at the side of their vehicles squeezing that handle filling up.

          I’m also lucky enough to commute between my garage at home and an indoor garage at work. I can actually keep my winter jacket stashed in the trunk just for emergencies. It’s nice. Am I a delicate snowflake for not wanting to freeze while pumping gas? Absolutely and I wear that badge with pride from my nice warm car.

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        My concern is when I go to visit my father 400 miles away. Can I sufficiently top off my battery when I stop for food/restroom enroute?

    • 0 avatar

      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.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        There are numerous labs like Tesla’s solving the same problems, but taking different approaches. They won’t be alone and I think a couple of companies may top them. We’re rapidly becoming a rechargeable-battery-driven society. AIP Subs, drones, robotics, kitchen appliances, lawn equipment, and electronic devices. The stakes are huge and there are a lot of material scientists hammering away at the problems. They’re making a lot of progress, but it takes time to get it into mass production.

        Tesla’s efficiency advantages aren’t just their batteries. Those Halbach Array motors give them a huge advantage. Probably more than the batteries.

        One very important number to watch in new battery tech is the Wh/kg number. As batteries get lighter, you’ll need less battery for a given range and a smaller battery for a given range means faster charging times. I think the original Leaf batteries were maybe 163 Wh/kg (I can never remember the exact number) and cells in production now are 300+ Wh/kg and some companies claim to be close to the 700 to 1,000 Wh/kg mark soon. We’re probably not that far from EVs being lighter than their ICE equivilents.

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        Thanks for the response.

        I understand your point. As a potential purchaser however, I am much more concerned with how long it will take to recharge my battery on a day-to-day basis. That the battery’s life is 500,000 or 750,000 miles is not on my radar.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        “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.

  • avatar
    Rick Astley

    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”.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      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.

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