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Tesla Battery Day

Tesla Battery Day

There were many groans when Elon Musk did not come forward with a big blockbuster announcement like the 500 Wh/kg battery at under $100/kWh capacity.  But that reaction misses the point.  Tesla has made a number of substantial pivots in its battery design that are setting the stage to reach the blockbuster stage faster than most expect.

When Tesla announced its Nevada Gigafactory (>1 GWh in the capacity of the batteries produced per year), my immediate reaction was:  “Oh no, his factory will be obsolete the day it opens”.  That was because he chose a battery size, electrolyte type, and chemistry that were solidly conventional (with all its flaws) on the day the announcement was made but overlooked how fast battery technology was improving.  In the three years, it took to get the Gigafactory humming, much better batteries were becoming available.

Here was what I missed:  Tesla did not know much about building batteries.  They had to learn and took a low-risk approach by building a well-known battery with dozens of suppliers to support it.  In doing so, it could avoid making battery packs the limiting item in EV production.  Turns out that was brilliant.  And it allowed them to do some other stunts like the PowerWall. 

Now that Tesla has learned the battery-building process (in record time probably), it can step out and build the next generation of batteries and battery packs faster (and better) than anyone else.  Most people at Battery Day likely didn’t appreciate this advance.  The downside for Tesla is that they likely bought millions of dollars of equipment they now don’t need.

One example was the initial use of the spiral-wound, sort-of-AA size batteries.  Tesla was eloquent about how that was the right solution when anybody in battery R&D knew that was baloney.  The spiral-wound battery was a holdover from its use in zinc (acid) and nickel (alkaline) cathode batteries.  Li-ion batteries have much less conductive material and so have a lot of internal resistance, leading to heat build-up during charging.  The result is the slow charge and discharge rates of Li-ion batteries (such as 1/6th of the battery capacity per hour).  Other battery shapes mitigate this problem, but Tesla disregarded those.  

Musk announced they are now moving to a much larger cylindrical battery (the size of the old dry cells with screw posts on the top—am I the only one who remembers these?) without the single tabs.  Instead, Tesla has come up with windings that look like overlapping shingles and have multiple connection points.  They call them “tabless” cells.  These have significantly lower internal electrical resistance so that they generate much less heat leading to lower cooling requirement.  And they have higher power density and faster recharge rates.  Now Musk says that anyone that does not use this format will not be competitive in EVs.  So much for the little batteries being the ideal choice.  Head fake!

Among other changes were:  

  • Substituting dry powder electrolytes for the conventional wet paste, cutting manufacturing costs, and reducing processing steps substantially.
  • Eliminating processing of raw materials for the cathode
  • Using a nickel cathode for higher capacity
  • Redesigning the structure of the battery pack and the vehicle frame to reduce weight and complexity

The net result of all the changes is an expected 56% drop in cost/kWh in battery capacity and an increase in factory output to 1 TWh per year (making it a Terafactory rather than a Gigafactory).  They hope to reach 200 GWh per year by 2020.  Tesla’s target is to have a $25,000 EV with a good range in three years, leveraging all they are achieving.

If you want to learn more, here’s a good article and a short YouTube video.  And the whole presentation via YouTube is here.

We had blogged on even bigger advances Tesla has underway for its batteries, but for now still in the shadows.

Thomas Hall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStart's Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.

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I founded CleanStart with Gary Simon and have been a board member for CleanStart from its beginning in 2005. Now I have enjoyed being part of the revitalized CleanStart. I have witnessed CleanStart set the example on how to help entrepreneurs and startups succeed and invigorate the community around clean tech. During this period, the Sacramento Region clean tech community has grown to over 5100 jobs and $3.2 billion revenue. Since CleanStart’s reboot in 2016, CleanStart has diligently worked to place companies in front of funding sources, resulting in successful raises of over $200 million.

CleanStart has contributed to the community through a series of meetups that have spawned new relationships, new companies and new ideas. With the elimination of in-person meetings, CleanStart has offered over three dozen video events with increased participation. While the majority of the participants are local, we are now seeing participants from the rest of the US and Europe. This is solidifying Sacramento’s image of being a leading clean tech community.

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Dan Koellen – Support CleanStart

I have been a board member for CleanStart from its beginning in 2005 and have enjoyed being part of the revitalized CleanStart. I have witnessed CleanStart set the example on how to help entrepreneurs and startups succeed and invigorate the community around clean tech. During this period, the Sacramento Region clean tech community has grown to over 5100 jobs and $3.2 billion revenue. Since CleanStart’s reboot in 2016, CleanStart has diligently worked to place companies in front of funding sources, resulting in successful raises of over $200 million.

CleanStart has contributed to the community through a series of meetups that have spawned new relationships, new companies and new ideas. With the elimination of in-person meetings, CleanStart has offered over three dozen video events with increased participation. While the majority of the participants are local, we are now seeing participants from the rest of the US and Europe. This is solidifying Sacramento’s image of being a leading clean tech community.

They have also recently run two very successful clean tech startup bootcamps with 26 companies graduating. Leveraging what was learned during the bootcamp, some of these companies have already received funding.

Like many companies and nonprofits, COVID has impacted CleanStart. They need to raise $10k from our community to continue their work and allow its reach and engagement to continue to grow. To make the funding go even further, a donor has committed to match each donation dollar for dollar.

So please join me in donating to CleanStart. A contribution of $500 or more will give you the privilege of having your name added near my name on the CleanStart Wall of Fame.

Thank you, Hero Sponsors, for helping Build our Wall of Fame:

Your Name Here

Patron Supporters 

Dr. Eric Cummings, Robert Gregoire, Larry Kellerman, Curtis Rocca,

Ingrid Rosten, Frederick Tornatore, Mark Humbert, Bill Westerfield,

Michael Carroll, Peter Bell, Al Rich, Kian Nobari, Bob Guimarin,

Steven Mills, John Jaggers, Farid Ismayilzada, Bing Gu

THANK-YOU: Brian Hoblit, Dan Sperling, Jack Crawford, Mike Hart, Mike Terzo, Roger Akers, Al Rich, Chris White, Noam Lotan, Bob Guimarin, Linghong Li, Sergey Vasylyev, Mark Henwood, Dan Koellen, Daniel Clark, Aaron Shaw, Laura Good, Sandra Hall, Thomas Paddon, Ezra Beeman, Peter Zullo, Diana Eastman, Alex Chompff, Brandon Rose, Lorenzo Smith, Ryan Barr, Robert Gregoire, Frederic Tornatore, Curtis Rocca, Christina Borsum, Weintraub Tobin, Kian Nobari, Lynne Goldsmith, Michelle Wong, Antonio Yung, Mark Berman, Andy Roth, Bill Westerfield, Yuliya Semak, Musole Buhendwa, Eva Shepherd, Mariah Lichtenstern, Eric Cummings, Steven Mills, Larry Kellerman, John Selep, Doug Linney, John Peters, Alain Poivet, Michael Carroll, Terry Carlone, Robert Wilson, Kyle Kaneshiro, John Jaggers, Robert Gregory, Glenn Meeks, Roger Johnson, Matt Roberts, Evolution Accelerator, Peter Bell, Ingrid Rosten, Bing Gu, Kathleen Collins, Kiara Reed, Guy Hall, Michelle Wong, Robert Willson 

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