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Everything you need to know about Musk’s future Tesla battery promise



The secret behind By Elon Musk Target to sell 20 million Tesla’s a year in 2030 lies in its vanguard the battery Technology.

The good news is that by using larger cells and a new process to dry the electrodes, Tesla can halve the cost of the electrodes. Model Y batteries, saving more than 8% compared to the starting price of cars in the US, said battery experts with ties to the company.

The bad news is that it’s only halfway there, according to 12 experts close to Tesla or familiar with Tesla’s new technology.

That’s because the dry coating technique used to produce the larger cells in Tesla’s 4680 battery is so new and unproven, the company is having a hard time scaling production to the point where it’s economical. be at great expense, experts told Reuters.

One of the experts close to Tesla said: “They are not ready for mass production.

However, the gains Tesla has made in cutting battery production costs over the past two years could help boost profits and extend its lead across most of the world. tram (EV) opponent.

Improvements like Musk’s promises in battery costs and performance are seen by investors as crucial to Tesla’s quest to usher in an era where it can sell a $25,000 EV. to make a profit – and have a better chance of hitting the 2030 goal.

The battery system is the most expensive single element in most EVs, so creating low-cost, high-performance packages is key to manufacturing. Electric Car can go head-to-head with internal combustion engine competitors in terms of sticker prices.

Tesla is one of the few major automakers to make their own EV batteries, and by manufacturing Model Y cells at US factories, the SUV will still be eligible for tax credits from Tesla. US when many rival EVs may no longer qualify.

Of the 12 battery experts Reuters spoke to, nine had close ties to Tesla, and three of the nine tested Tesla’s new and old battery technology inside and out through tears.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

‘HE WILL SOLVE IT’

Sources predict that it will be difficult for Tesla to fully implement the new dry coating production process before the end of this year and perhaps until 2023.

Stan Whittingham, co-inventor of the lithium-ion battery and 2019 Nobel laureate, believes Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been overly optimistic about the timeframe for commercializing this new technique.

“I think he’ll work it out, but it won’t be as fast as he likes. It’s going to take a while to really test it out,” he said.

In August, Musk told shareholders that Tesla would mass produce 4,680 batteries by the end of 2022.

According to experts, Tesla has only been able to cut the battery cost of the Model Y by $2,000 to $3,000 so far, about half of the savings Tesla had planned for the 4680 battery it announced. two years ago.

But those savings mainly come from the new 4680-cell design, which is larger than Tesla’s current 2170 battery, they said.

But at the heart of the drive to reduce costs is dry coating technology, which Musk has described as revolutionary but difficult to implement.

According to sources, it will yield half of the $5,500 in savings Tesla hopes to achieve, by cutting production costs and one-time capital expenditures.

Tesla acquired this know-how in 2019 when it paid more than $200 million to Maxwell Technologies, a San Diego company that makes supercapacitors that store energy for devices that need to generate electricity quickly, such as flash lights. camera.

Building on Maxwell’s technology, Tesla began production of 4680 dry cells this year, first in a test near the plant in Fremont, California and more recently at its new global headquarters in Austin, Texas .

‘BEST IN CLASS’

This technology allows Tesla to eliminate the older, more complex and costly wet paint process. It is expensive because it requires a significant amount of electricity, machinery, workshop space, time, and a large workforce.

To coat the electrodes during the wet process, battery manufacturers mix the material with a toxic binder solvent. Once coated, the electrodes are dried in large furnaces, with the toxic solvents that evaporate in the process being recovered, treated and recycled – all adding to the cost.

With the new technology, the electrodes are coated with different adhesives with little use of liquid, so they do not need to be dried. That means it’s cheaper, faster, and also less harmful to the environment.

Because of its simplicity, this process allows Tesla to cut capital expenditures by a third and cut both the size of a factory and its energy consumption to one-tenth of what is needed for a plant. wet process, Tesla said.

However, the company has had difficulty commercializing the process, the sources said.

Maxwell has developed a dry coating process for supercapacitors, but the challenge with coating electrodes for EV batteries is that they are much larger and thicker, which makes it possible to coat them with uniform quality at production speeds. Batch is very difficult.

“They can produce in small quantities, but when they started mass production, Tesla got a lot of rejection,” one of the sources with ties to Tesla told Reuters.

Production productivity is so low that all expected cost savings from the new process have been lost, the source said.

If all the potential efficiencies from the dry coating and larger cells were realized, the manufacturing cost for the Model Y 4680 battery pack would drop to $5,000 to $5,500 – roughly half the cost of the Model Y. 2170 battery pack, according to sources.

However, rising materials and energy costs pose risks to those forecasts, and Tesla has yet to significantly improve the energy density of the new battery or the amount of energy it delivers, as Musk has promised. .

However, despite those factors, the savings Tesla is expected to achieve will make the 4680 battery “the best battery in the industry” for the foreseeable future, one source said.

BALL UP WOMEN

Most of the $2,000 to $3,000 cost savings achieved with the 4680 battery to date have been attributed to other improvements, and the use of larger cells has proven particularly efficient, experts say. .

4680 cells are 5.5 times larger than 2170 cells by volume. Older cylindrical cells have a diameter of 21mm and a height of 70mm, hence the name. 4680 cells are 46mm in diameter and 80mm high.

With older technology, Tesla needed about 4,400 cells to power the Model Y, and there were 17,600 spots that needed to be soldered — four per cell — to create a package that could be integrated into the vehicle, the sources said. said.

The 4680 battery pack requires only 830 cells, and Tesla has changed the design to have only two solder points per cell, cutting the solder point to 1,660 points and providing significant cost savings.

The simpler design also means fewer connectors and other components, which has allowed Tesla to further save on labor costs and machine time.

Another source of efficiency is the much tougher outer shell of the larger cell. Tesla can now bind cells together with adhesives into a rigid honeycomb-like package, which is then connected directly to the Model Y’s internal structure.

This eliminates the intermediate step of bundling cells into larger modules, which are then inserted into a traditional battery pack, the sources said.

By switching to this “cell for the vehicle” design, Tesla was able to reduce the weight of a traditional 1,200-pound battery pack by 55 pounds or more – saving about $500 to $600 per pack, one of the sources said. know.

But mastering the dry coating technique is still the holy grail.

“Increasing the efficiency of the battery has greatly helped in increasing the performance, but the 50% cost savings for the entire battery is another matter,” one source said.

“That will depend on whether Tesla can successfully roll out the dry paint process in the factory.”

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