New Tesla Battery Tech Extends Life, Lowers Cost

The Tesla Model X. Image credit: Tesla

Tesla aims to make batteries last longer while reducing their cost per mile, bringing expense of electric cars into line with petrol-powered competitors

Electric car maker Tesla is reportedly set to introduce a low-cost, long-life battery in vehicles for the Chinese market later this year or early in 2021, in a move that could bring electric automobile costs into line with conventional models, making them more accessible.

The “million mile” battery, named for the distance it lasts before needing to be replaced, has been in development with China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) and also uses technology created by specialists recruited by Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, Reuters reported.

Tesla planned to announce the techExnology at a “Battery Day” originally scheduled for April, but has had to push the event back until at least late May due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Musk told investors earlier this year that the technology “will blow your mind”.

Image credit: Tesla

Extended life

Tesla worked with CATL along with other researchers at a research lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia to develop some of the key technologies used in the battery, according to Reuters.

Those advances include chemical additives and nano-engineered materials that make lithium-ion batteries more resistant to deterioration caused by stresses such as rapid charging, extending their life.

The battery’s chemistry reportedly involves a reduced amount of cobalt, the most expensive material in electric vehicle batteries, which Tesla has long aimed to eliminate entirely.

In recent weeks Tesla has reportedly been in talks to use CATL’s lithium iron phosphate batteries, which use no cobalt, and CATL is also reportedly planning to supply Tesla with nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) whose cathode is 50 percent nickel and only 20 percent cobalt.

A reduction in or elimination of cobalt could be key to reducing battery cost to below $100 (£82) per kilowatt-hour, the level at which electric vehicles are seen as being roughly at parity with cars based on internal combustion.

Cost per mile

CATL’s cobalt-free lithium iron phosphate battery packs is below $80/kWh, while the cost of battery cells is below $60/kWh, and its low-cobalt NMC is close to $100/kWh, Reuters said.

General Motors and LG Chem said in March they are trying to hit the $100/kWh mark with new batteries, but they are not expected to do so until the mid-2020s.  GM said at the time that its new generation of batteries uses 70 percent less cobalt.

Tesla, which currently works with Panasonic to manufacture batteries, is expected to introduce the new battery technology first in its Model 3 sedan in the Chinese market, with future generations set to be brought into other markets, including North America, at a later date.

The company is also working on highly automated manufacturing processes to further reduce battery manufacturing costs, Reuters said.

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