By on May 15, 2020

Tesla plans to introduce a cheaper, longer-lasting battery in Model 3 sedans produced for Chinese customers. With the industry awaiting the next breakthrough in battery tech, and the hope that such a development will bring electric vehicle pricing closer to internal combustion units, this is a big deal.

Initial data also seems to suggest these cells plan on delivering — offering more affordable production options and a million-mile lifespan (a claim always worthy of a grain of salt). According to those familiar with the plan, the batteries also have the capability to be extracted from cars to serve as home-energy solutions. Battery waste is going to become a serious problem once EVs enter into the mainstream. Tesla’s new plan might fail to address the endgame, but it could prolong their usefulness and buy additional time before they have to be recycled or stored at specially designated waste containment areas that can handle hazardous materials. 

An exclusive report from Reuters said the new battery is the result of Tesla’s joint venture with China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd. (CATL). The technical foundation is all Tesla, with a swath of experts in the field being selected by the automaker to fine tune the package in Asia. The goal is to continuously improve the system so that ever-higher ranges and lifespans can be reached — with the additional target of finding ways to utilize the units for secondary purposes that might feed into (or grow) Tesla’s existing business structures.

The first batteries will reportedly appear in long-range variants of Chinese-made Model 3s. However, the automaker eventually plans to spread them to all markets. Reuters said it also represents a shift in Tesla’s corporate strategy — repositioning the automaker as an energy solutions company that also happens to build electric vehicles.

While one assumes CEO Elon Musk will gradually explain what this entails over a period of months (maybe years), we’re already got a fairly good idea of how it plans on building energy dense batteries at a lower cost.

CATL has endeavored to manufacture a less expensive way of packaging battery cells, and appears to have landed on a tactic it calls “cell-to-pack.” The design integrates battery cell production and the finished package that goes inside an automobile, saving costs and weight. It’s also extremely similar to a patent application initiated by Tesla that involves stacking cells in a common enclosure that can also be used for a structure and heat transfer fluid conduit (simplifying production). CATL has likewise developed lithium-iron phosphate batteries which don’t require rare/expensive metals like cobalt.

From Reuters:

Tesla’s new batteries will rely on innovations such as low-cobalt and cobalt-free battery chemistries, and the use of chemical additives, materials and coatings that will reduce internal stress and enable batteries to store more energy for longer periods, sources said.

Tesla also plans to implement new high-speed, heavily automated battery manufacturing processes designed to reduce labor costs and increase production in massive “terafactories” about 30 times the size of the company’s sprawling Nevada “gigafactory” — a strategy telegraphed in late April to analysts by Musk.

Tesla is working on recycling and recovery of such expensive metals as nickel, cobalt and lithium, through its Redwood Materials affiliate, as well as new “second life” applications of electric vehicle batteries in grid storage systems, such as the one Tesla built in South Australia in 2017. The automaker also has said it wants to supply electricity to consumers and businesses, but has not provided details.

“We’ve got to really make sure we get a very steep ramp in battery production and continue to improve the cost per kilowatt-hour of the batteries — this is very fundamental and extremely difficult,” Musk told investors in January. “We’ve got to scale battery production to crazy levels that people cannot even fathom today.”

As previously stated, automation will play a major role here, though it’s impossible to understate the importance of the battery tech itself. Tesla and CATL appear to be throwing everything they have into the mix to ensure the next round of batteries make EVs harder to snub. While improvements in rage are estimated to be fairly impressive, the all-important factor is declining production costs.

CATL’s low-cobalt NMC battery packs are close to $100 per kilowatt hour. But its lithium iron phosphate battery packs have fallen below $80/kWh, with cells boasting a per-kilowatt-hour price below $60/kWh. In the past, we’ve heard industry leaders suggest $100/kWh for battery packs is the level where electric vehicles begin to break even with internal combustion vehicles. Others say it’s closer to $70/kWh.

Either way, Tesla sounds to be getting very close to that mark. A battery tech announcement is apparently scheduled for late May. This should shed some more light on its long-term goals and give us some idea of how close these promising advancements are to yielding fruit. Expect Musk to discuss automotive applications for the new battery tech and what else it might be plotting in terms of energy storage. Do not expect him to give you a reliable timeline or spare the hype, however.

[Image: JL IMAGES/Shutterstock]

 

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18 Comments on “Better Batteries, New Corporate Identity Coming to Tesla?...”


  • avatar
    Imagefont

    These statements are always so vague. Tesla desperately wants to telegraph that something new is on the way but what they’re really saying is that they’re working on something better / cheaper / faster and that they hope to have it some day.
    Interesting comments about battery disposal.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “…batteries also have the capability to be extracted from cars to serve as home-energy solutions”

    Not sure what this means, or is novel about that. Nissan has been doing this for years, and Tesla has had the Powerwall for years (not with used cells, though).

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      “Not sure what this means”: My guess is that if the batteries are capable of 4000 cycles as I’m hearing, they’ll outlast the car. It would also be less of an issue to use it to power your house. With the LEAF, I wouldn’t dare try to use the battery to power anything. A 4k cycle battery I might.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Tesla has applied to be an energy generation company in the UK with Ofcom, the regulator. Everyone’s wondering what that means, you know, really. Batteries can be charged and discharged, but generation is a whole ‘nother matter. We shall eventually see, no doubt. I’m prepared to be let down with something quite mundane from the back pages of the July 1956 issue of Popular Science (Send $1 and an SASE for complete plans to: Unbelievable, Box 2900, Boulder, CO)

    As for a cell/battery plant 30 times the size of Gigafactory, What a blight on the landscape that would be. Why would it be so big and centralized, a logistical nightmare? Perhaps it can be positioned over that lithium “lake” in the high mountains of southern Chile, and llamas could transport the finished packs down to the sea shore over rock strewn 30 degree slope trails. Nah, Musk would build a Boring Tunnel to get stuff in and out. That’s the ticket.

  • avatar
    bobbysirhan

    Musk had better not make EVs too affordable and effective. The next thing you know the progressives will get on board with Michael Moore’s “Planet of the Humans.”

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      Moore didn’t make that omnishambles, though he did promote it.

      But that train has left the station. The true greenies have never liked EVs. They’ve always seen them as a plot to extend the hegemony of Demon Automobile, instead of eliminating it.

      Which, of course, they are. If anyone on this blog had a lick of sense, they’d get behind EVs 100%.

  • avatar
    RayTo

    Every Chinese branded 18650 I’ve every owned has been a fail. Totally inconsistent quality, swelling, failures, materially overrated mAH. Couple that with the usual BS from Tesla and I think I’ll ignore future PR.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Well… this kind of puts a stopper on my (loose!) plans to buy a Tesla 3. I want to wait for the new battery tech to come out, and also a year or two to make sure it is dependable.

    ?

    • 0 avatar
      Imagefont

      You might be waiting a long time.
      FSD has been promised for years and It’s nowhere on the horizon.
      I think I would give as much credence to this better / cheaper battery claim as I would to Musk’s statement about your car turning into an autonomous taxi via an OTA update while you sleep.
      He makes these wild statements and then just stops talking about them after a while, hoping you’ll forget.
      Have you considered the benefits of owning your own bridge?

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        “Have you considered the benefits of owning your own bridge?”

        Tesla and Musk have delivered on plenty of product promises. Model Y, China plant, and plenty of others. FSD I think is decades away and I’m sceptical about the timeframe that it will take the Taylor Tx factory to be completed. The battery tech seems to be legit because analysts have following the patent filings. The tech seems doable and the manufacturing equipment for the cells has already been shipped according to independent sources. Independent verification is mandatory with Musk’s or anyone else’s claims for that matter. The battery progress has been independently verified by multiple sources.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    There’s nothing revolutionary here. Just incremental engineering improvements—small chemistry tweaks coupled with improved integration in pack design. At realistic rates of improvement, it will take 20 model years for electric drive trains to reach cost parity with ICE, and even then, that parity will only exist for smaller vehicles.

    (And don’t tell me about used Chevy Bolt prices as evidence EVs are already cheap. The Bolt is a penalty box with the interior of a $12K ICE that sells for $27K new because batteries are still too expensive.)

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      “And don’t tell me about used Chevy Bolt prices as evidence EVs are already cheap.”: I will anyway. Actually, 27k was the price of a new one at one point in late Winter/early Spring. Not sure they are at that low now. You can get a Model 3 for $36k as Edmunds recently proved, so I haven’t been paying attention to Bolt prices.

      EVs are price competitive with ICE right now if you’re priority is a drivetrain that gives you fast acceleration, smoothness, and quiet. Just compare 0-60 times and the price parity seems to be there. If you have a priority on the appearance of the interior and are okay with a 4 cylinder with a CVT, then they aren’t comparable. Electric drivetrains are premium and really should cost more than 3 or 4 cylinders cars with CVTs. Back in the day, V8s and V12s cost more than 4 and 6 cylinders. Nothing has changed in a way.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    From what I’ve read (admittedly from non-Tesla sources), if this battery configuration really happens, everything in the Nevada Panasonic plant besides the walls is pretty much obsolete.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      Maybe.

      I like the idea of a longer lasting battery. For the masses, this is probably a good thing.

      If you buy a Tesla for ludicrous acceleration, it’s probably a bad thing. Rapid discharging is hard on batteries. If you like rapid charging, it’s a bad thing. Rapid charging is hard on batteries. In all likelihood, one of the things they do to make these batters last is put some significant limits on charge and discharge rates.

      For the later Tesla buyers, the Panasonic sourced batteries are a better choice. If Tesla is able to expand their production to satisfy both types of buyers, both battery sources may be needed.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        @brn: From what I’ve heard, the batteries are capable of 4k cycles. Don’t know what the rapid discharge does to the number of cycles, I’d be fine even if it drops the life by over 50%. Tesla is in the process of buying their own battery manufacturing equipment and will be replacing the Panasonic sourced batteries. Tesla’s new “tabless” technology should simplify and speed production.

        I’m not going to wait for the new batteries myself. At least for the daily driver.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    “We are developing, right now, incredible equipment at a level that nobody has ever seen before. We have no choice. We have to do it — with the adversaries we have out there. We have a — I call it the ‘super-duper battery.’ And I heard the other night, lasts a million miles, way more than what they have right now.”

    P.S. In the alternate timeline, Elon Musk heads the Space Force.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    You don’t have to be a scientist to see it’s the packing (herding) of people close, tightly together is more or less the equivalent of tongue kissing, when it comes to the flu.

    Basically just above stupid. No, I have to include stupid. It’s that fundamental.

    Yes the lockdown could’ve been handled better, on a business to business, case by case, permit to stay open basis,
    or allowed to continue providing service, but at the time, there was no better way to go about it.

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