Tesla’s secret batteries aim to rework the math for electric cars

Electric car maker Tesla plans to introduce a new low-cost, long-life battery in its Model 3 sedan in China later this year or early next year which is expected to align the cost of electric vehicles with petrol models and allow EV batteries to have second and third lives in the power grid.

For months, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been teasing investors and rivals with promises to reveal significant advances in battery technology during a “Battery Day” in late May.

New low-cost batteries designed to last a million kilometers and allow Teslas Electric to sell profitably at the same price or less than a gasoline-powered vehicle are only part of Musk’s agenda, said at Reuters people familiar with the plans.

With a global fleet of more than one million electric vehicles capable of connecting to and sharing the grid, Tesla’s goal is to achieve status as an electricity company, competing with suppliers traditional energy such as Pacific Gas & Electric and Tokyo Electric. Power, said these sources.

The new “million mile” battery at the center of Tesla’s strategy was developed in conjunction with contemporary Chinese Amperex technology and deploys the technology developed by Tesla in collaboration with a team of academic battery experts recruited by Musk, said three people familiar with the effort.

Ultimately, improved versions of the battery, with higher energy density and storage capacity, and even lower costs, will be introduced in other Tesla vehicles in other markets, including North America, said the sources.

Tesla’s plan to launch the new battery first in China and its broader strategy of repositioning the company have not been previously reported. Tesla declined to comment.

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

Tesla also plans to implement new high-speed, highly automated battery manufacturing processes designed to reduce labor costs and increase production in massive “fireballs” about 30 times the size of the gigantic ” gigafactory “from Nevada – a strategy wired in late April to analysts by Musk.

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

Reuters announced exclusively in February that Tesla was in advanced talks to use CATL lithium iron phosphate batteries, which do not use cobalt, the most expensive metal in EV batteries.

CATL has also developed a simpler and less expensive way to condition the cells in the battery, called cell-to-pack, which eliminates the intermediate step of grouping cells. Tesla should use the technology to help reduce the weight and cost of the battery.

The sources said CATL also plans to supply Tesla in China next year with an improved long-life nickel-manganese-cobalt battery, the cathode of which is 50% nickel and only 20% cobalt.

Tesla now jointly produces nickel-cobalt-aluminum batteries with Panasonic in a “gigafactory” in Nevada and purchases NMC batteries from LG Chem in China. Panasonic declined to comment.

Taken together, advances in battery technology, the strategy of expanding the use of EV batteries, and large-scale manufacturing automation all have the same goal: to rework the financial mathematics that so far have purchases an electric car. more expensive for most consumers than sticking to carbon-emitting internal combustion vehicles.

“We really need to make sure that we get a very steep ramp in battery production and continue to improve the cost per kilowatt hour of batteries – this is very basic and extremely difficult,” Musk told investors in January. “We have to take battery production to crazy levels that people can’t even imagine today.”

Tesla has reported operating profits for three consecutive quarters, almost doubling its stock price this year. Yet Musk’s ambitious expansion plans depend on increasing both profit margins and sales volume.

A number of the technical advances made by Tesla and CATL in chemistry and battery design have come from a small research laboratory at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The laboratory has been led since 1996 by Jeff Dahn, a pioneer in the development of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and network storage.

Dahn and his team began an exclusive five-year research partnership with Tesla in mid-2016, but the relationship dates back to at least 2012.

Among the essential contributions of Dahn’s laboratory: chemical additives and nano-designed materials to make lithium-ion batteries harder and more resistant to bruises due to stress such as rapid charging, thus extending their lifespan.

The cost of CATL’s cobalt-free lithium iron phosphate batteries fell below $ 80 per kilowatt hour, with the cost of battery cells falling below $ 60 / kWh, sources said. CATL low cobalt NMC batteries cost close to $ 100 / kWh.

Auto industry leaders have declared that $ 100 / kWh for batteries is the level at which electric vehicles reach rough parity with internal combustion competitors.

Battery expert Shirley Meng, professor at the University of California at San Diego, said NMC cells could cost as little as $ 80 / kWh once recycling and recovering key materials such as cobalt and nickel taken into account. Iron phosphate batteries, which are safer than NMC could find a second life in fixed grid storage systems, reducing the initial cost of these batteries for buyers of electric vehicles.

In comparison, the new low-cobalt batteries developed jointly by General Motors and LG Chem should not reach these cost levels before 2025, according to a source close to the work of the companies.

GM declined to comment on its cost targets. Earlier this year, he only said that he planned to “bring the cost of battery cells below $ 100 / kWh” without specifying a schedule.

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