Battery Day – Tesla, if anyone had any doubt that Tesla is going to be the leader heading into the future of the electric car and power management this week solidified their position.
It is truly incredible the innovation that Tesla continues to deliver. The team at Tesla reviews a part of the market that has been devoid of innovation, they turn it on its head with first principal thinking.
Battery day – Tesla was presented online and a number of lucky investors and followers of Tesla were in attendance and the unique way they socially distanced was very cool.
Elon has spoken a number of times regarding the first principle thinking to reframe a question regarding a current problem.
“The first principle” was conceived by Aristotle to rethink an already existing process and find another way to achieve a better outcome.
First principle thinking guided Tesla to reimagine a better battery for the future of the company.
They broke down the detail into 5 complete sections
- Cell Design
- Cell factory
- Anode Materials
- Cathode Materials
- Cell Vehicle Integration
Tesla is turning the cell design on its head. They thought long and hard about the fundamentals of what constitutes the cell. The team at Tesla looked at the main features of current cells looking for opportunities to increase energy storage and output.
The introduction of the tabless 4680 cell made of silicon whilst limiting the use of cobalt has led them to achieve an innovative approach. With these changes it can increase the cells range by 16%. This range extension is truly incredible and critical to the uptake of EV’s as we move into the next couple of years.
One of the most surprising elements regarding the cell announcement pertains to the fact that a pilot factory already exists. The fact that cells are already being produced would suggest that this is not just a theory but a revolution and real.
Taking inspiration from printing and bottling factories of yesteryear where the production line does not slow down during the whole process, Tesla has implemented a similar process that allows the cells production to increase accordingly.
Within the production of the cells there are 4 main steps
Major efficiencies can be found within the process of manufacturing battery cells as opposed to the traditional processes.
The use of a “High-Speed Continuous” motion allows for a smaller footprint within factories producing more cells per hour allowing an increase in efficiencies with manufacturing and could produce a 7x improvement with possiblility 10x improvement over time.
Tesla last year purchased Maxwell which had a process for converting dry powder materials and applying that as a film onto the separator in the jelly roll of the battery. Elon explained that since this purchase, they have iterated on the process 4 times and believe that they will achieve greater efficiency by about the sixth iteration. This advancement removes the need for a wet process and thus reduces the size of the factory required exponentially.
These improvements are revolutionary to the production of cells. Once again first principles has delivered a new perspective.
Most companies rely on old solutions where as Tesla as confirmed by Elon will continue to innovate and push the boundaries of what is possible.
Currently Tesla refers to the factories as Gigafactories. As they move forward and transition to the new cell form factor the factories will be referred to Terafactories.
Silicon is considered a fundamental element used in most batteries. Once again Tesla has had to go back to fundamentals and find a way to improve the process of creating better density and usage of the batteries.
When a battery is charged and discharged the movement of lithium across the membrane causes it to crack and become gooey. Overtime this causes the cell to lose the ability to manage the state of charge thus rendering the cell less effective.
Many have tried to rectify this by addressing the symptoms not the cause. The introduction of different binders and support materials have been used to lessen the impact of the heat generated during charging and discharging. This has been met with varying results.
Tesla is attempting to look at the fundamentals of what makes up the anode of the battery and see if they can eliminate cobalt whilst using Silicon in a different way. Raw silicon has been proposed as a possible solution to help with the expansion issue when charged and discharged.
- Raw material silicon,
- stabilize surface through elastic, non-conducting polymer coasting,
- robust network – highly elastic binder and electrode design.
By implementing the above changes to the cell It has been shown to provide a 20% increase in range for vehicles.
A 20% increase in cell range is groundbreaking when dealing with electric vehicles. Distance is king in many cases and this could help to achieve this greater range for the same price. Or alternatively it could mean less cells with same range reducing costs.
A cathode provides structure to the management of lithium ions within the battery cell. Tesla has been experimenting with different cathode types that would allow cells to be more environmentally friendly and increase recyclability.
In the course of their investigations they believe a diverse range of materials will be utilised for different purposes. Tesla will implement different material across their product line to address cost, density and output.
Iron – Low level use
Nickel Manganese – medium level use
High Nickel – used for Long range – Cyber truck and semi
The use of nickel as a main component gives the best dollar per kwh and wh/kg. This combined with removing the cobalt has a number of positive effects
- Reduces complexity of the materials
- Continues to address the human rights issues with mining
- Has a good structure to hold the lithium
- Reduction in costs of $/kwh
Again the returned to first principles regarding the manufacturing of the cathode. This lead to an improvement in battery production and thus a cumulative effect upon the percentile shift of costs in the downward trend.
Further to this, lithium is a highly abundant material and is available within many and varied locations. It seems that the collection and processing of the material is able to be achieved within in the USA.
Mining lithium is important way forward for cell production and Tesla has found a way to extract it from clay with the use of Nacl (Salt). The outcome of this leads to highly recyclable cells and materials, that can be easily reconstructed into new cells. This leads to some impressive cost savings.
Cell vehicle production
Elon announced a change to the fundamental design of the Tesla vehicles.
He was inspired by the airline industries innovation when they created a fuel tank as part of the wing which improved capacity and reduced weight. By changing the way the vehicles are constructed to achieve a similar concept Tesla’s vehicles have also had similar outcomes.
This one design change is said to lead to;
- 10 % in weight reduction
- 14% range increase opportunity
- 370 fewer parts
Tesla has shown that it can innovate in areas that most car companies take for granted and follow a standard view of the processes. Tesla chooses to look at the fundamentals and innovate using the first principles thinking regarding anything from the car to the power train to the battery cells and beyond.
The above innovations with cell production, cell development, anode, cathode and vehicle design allow for changes and efficiencies in their own right, but the cumulative effect it has upon the overall price and production helps to drive prices down , safety up and more people in cars everywhere.
This is a monumental step in regard to Tesla’s value as a company and value of the individual vehicles. The impact it will have on the tesla solar and battery storage costs moving into the future will be profound.
Elon highlighted that the realization of this technology will not occur for 1-3 years but the ability to own a tesla in the coming years with a price that is reasonable is extremely exciting.
- 54% Range increase
- 56% S/KWH reduction
- 69% Investment per GWH reduction.
What does this mean for Australia?
I have watched a number of Tesla presentations over the years and this presentation was the most exciting for a number of reasons.
In Australia the prices of tesla vehicle is quite significant for the average person. With a starting price of $74000 a lot of people find this price out of reach.
If Tesla was able to maximise on the 56% reduction in dollars per KWH then the possibility exists that in the future Tesla’s could be priced around $40000 – $ 50000. If this was to transpire then more Australians would be in a position to consider their next car to be electric.
If the new 4680 battery cell is adapted to the home power storage solutions it could assist Australians to increase their ability to maximise their solar panel efficiencies whilst also reducing the cost of electric and charging electric vehicle.
If this is the future in 1-3 years, then I am on board and I would encourage all Australians to investigate electric products.
One more thing….
It would not be a Tesla event if there wasn’t something unexpected. Tesla announced a possibility of a new, smaller sedan with a price range of around $25000 USD.
The Plaid Model S
The Plaid Model S, which has been seen on the Nürburgring, with a tri motor specifications and a 0-60 mph time of 2.1 seconds is now available to be purchased online. this impressive vehicle has a starting price in Australia of $189000.
Battery Day – Tesla has shown what it is capable of and sets a high standard for all to follow. Tesla’s mission will improve the environment and accelerate the transition to a sustainable future. The information provided by Tesla has great potential to realise the possibilities.
Tesla’s philosophy of using first principles to reimagine what battery technologies can be will have positive impacts on the environment for years to come. It’s ability to continually innovate and move their mission forward is inspiring.