- Elon Musk and Tesla powertrain and energy engineering leader Drew Baglino held the Tesla 2020 Battery Day announcements as an outdoor presentation, with the audience sitting in Tesla cars and honking horns to show approval.
- Musk described a much more efficient way of making batteries on a much larger scale that will cut the cost per kilowatt-hour in half, while also talking up a new method of designing the cars so the battery is part of the structure.
- Musk promised a “compelling” $25,000 car within three years and also said he believes internal-combustion cars will soon go the way of the steam engine.
Batteries. That’s the difference between the price of an EV and a gas-powered vehicle: the price of batteries. It’s also the main factor in a vehicle’s range. Regardless of how far a person travels 99 percent of the time, range anxiety still weighs heavily on potential buyers. While Tesla has demonstrated that its vehicle range requires efficient drivetrains and other components, it all comes down to batteries.
The 2020 Battery Day presentation was, among other things, the company’s chance to talk about its environmental mission. At the top of the event, CEO Elon Musk said, “This presentation is about accelerating the time to sustainable energy.” He added that to hit their mark there needs to be a 100x growth in batteries for EVs to achieve this mission and introduced the slogan, “Tera- is the new gigawatt.”
Problem: Today’s battery factories can’t scale fast enough. In Musk’s words at Battery Day, the company would need 135 fully built out Nevada Gigafactories to make 20 terawatt-hours of batteries in a year that Tesla says it needs. The company needs the battery capacity because, Musk said, Tesla expects to expand 30 to 40 percent this year and beyond.
So it’s no surprise that Tesla has bundled its Battery Day event with a stockholder meeting to announce that it has a plan to halve the cost per kilowatt-hour (actually 56 percent) by building its own cells and announced that a $25,000 passenger EV is coming.
Slashing Costs at Cell Level
Part of the process has been to create tabless cells larger than what was in the company’s original battery packs. The new 2170 cells are easier to manufacture, with fewer parts, and have a shorter electrical path length to reduce heat. Overall, Musk said, it’s a more efficient cell with five times the energy, 16 percent more range, and six times the power. It also leads to a 14 percent wattage per house cost savings. That’s where EV costs can start coming down.
The cells will start production in a pilot gigawatt factory at the Fremont, California, factory location. Musk says it’ll take about a a year to reach the 10-gigawatt-hour capacity for the pilot plan. The plan for the actual production is about 200 gigawatt-hours.
Part of the production is dry coating the electrode. Musk reminded the audience that the company is still working out the kinks for this technology. “We’re not saying this is completely in the bag. There’s still a lot of work to do,” Musk said. The benefit is that the production would allow for a 10 times reduction in footprint and 10 times reduction in energy needed to produce.
Bringing battery prices down so that there is price parity for EVs in the same vehicle segment as gas-powered counterparts has long been a target by Tesla and other automakers.
Big Claims about Manufacturing Prowess
In the factory itself, Tesla is working on manufacturing of batteries that requires zero stops in the system. The cells would continuously move along the line sort of like a highway but without traffic. “Tesla will absolutely be head and shoulders above everyone else in manufacturing,” Musk said.
The company is also noting that can reduce the footprint of its factories saying it will be able to get a 75 percent drop in investment for those facilities. The goal is to get battery production at 100 gigawatt-hours by 2022 and 3 terawatt-hours by 2030. The reduction equals an 18 percent reduction in dollar per kilowatt.
Use of silicon for batteries was next. Typically it expands four times in the battery and severely reduces the life of the battery. Instead of trying to change the silicon, Tesla wants to change the battery to support the material.
Nickel to Edge Out Cobalt
For the cathode, Tesla is moving away from cobalt to nickel. The price differential is about 15-percent less for the nickel battery over the cobalt in the cathode per dollar cost.
For cathode development, the company is moving to a more efficient process that reduces cost by 75 percent and uses zero waste water. Typically cathode manufacturing ends up with a wasted water. the company will build its own cathode facility in the United States. It’ll be part of the cell production plant.
The company has retained the rights to its own lithium mine in Nevada and says that state has enough to power all the electric vehicles in the United States. Tesla also said it recycles 100 percent of its vehicles with third parties. It’s started its own in-house pilot program in Nevada to recycle Tesla products.
370 Fewer Parts in a Car Is the Goal
With a single piece casting for the front and rear body, the Model Y has 79 fewer parts per car. Musk said Tesla now has the “largest casting machine ever made” in Fremont, saving 40 percent on the rear underbody by making it a single piece of die-cast aluminum, and has even developed the company’s own high-strength alloy. He did not name that newly invented material, but may we suggest Elonium?
The revised Tesla battery will have an energy device and, like the structural fuel tank of a plane that makes the battery part of the wing, the battery will be part of the vehicle’s structure, permitting the cells be packed more densely. Musk says it makes the vehicles more stiff and noted that if a vehicle with this technology was a convertible, it would be stiffer than a traditional car.
The result, according to Tesla, will be a 10 percent mass reduction, 14 percent range increase, and 370 fewer parts in the cars.
All of these innovations, Musk claims, will result in a 56 percent drop in price per kilowatt-hour and a production cost reduction of 69 percent. The bad news is that it’s probably going to take about three years, according to Musk, to get this all up and running. But the result and long -erm goal is 20 million vehicles per year.
Musk wrapped up his remarks by promising a “compelling” $25,000 passenger EV in three years.
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Finally, for those with the cash and the need for speed, Tesla announced that the Plaid Model S is available to order and will be out at the end of next year. It recently did a 1:30.3 lap time at Laguna Seca Raceway. So it’s quick.
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