Tesla boss Elon Musk has given his biggest hint yet at what the much-awaited Battery Day may reveal, including the suggestion that the new developments will “affect long-term production,” in particular for the upcoming Semi, Cybertruck & Roadster.
Musk said there will be a significant lag time of the technology that will be announced, saying it “will not reach serious high-volume production until 2022.”
This blows away the theory that whatever battery technology Tesla is planning to announce is already being used en masse in cars it is producing today, to avoid the “Osborne Effect” where sales slump in anticipation of new technology as touted by industry veteran Jack Rickard.
Musk also said that:”We intend to increase, not reduce battery cell purchases from Panasonic, LG & CATL (possibly other partners too),” perhaps referring to the rumours that Tesla is planning significant output at its own facility under a project known as “Roadrunner”, and reported on yesterday by The Driven.
But he added that even with extra purchases from Tesla’s existing and possible new battery partners, he thinks demand for Tesla’s electric vehicles and therefore more batteries will still see a shortfall in supply unless, “we also take action ourselves.”
We intend to increase, not reduce battery cell purchases from Panasonic, LG & CATL (possibly other partners too). However, even with our cell suppliers going at maximum speed, we still foresee significant shortages in 2022 & beyond unless we also take action ourselves.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 21, 2020
Speculation on Battery Day is running hot: it is thought that amongst the revelations will be news about the so-called “million mile battery” using a single crystal cathode, that could underpin Tesla’s plans to launch a fleet of autonomous “robo-taxis”, without fear of premature battery degradation.
A long-life battery that can cycle 4,000 times before significantly degrading would also have massive implications for long haul transport as well as energy storage.
Morgan Stanley said in a note on Tuesday: “The Tesla Battery Day could bring batteries with high energy density and million-mile longevity that will accelerate the adoption of passenger and industrial electric vehicles, and add in-house manufacturing innovation, in our view.”
Other topics that have come under the spotlight in the media include tabless electrodes, use of dry cell or supercapacitor technology developed by Tesla acquisition Maxwell Technologies, innovation on using more silicon in battery anodes, cell-to-pack processes and reduction of cobalt in battery chemistry.
Key to accelerating the transition to electric vehicles is making batteries more cheaply. Batteries currently account for as much as 50% of the cost of the entire vehicle.
Industry analysts say that for the sticker price of electric vehicles to be on par with combustion vehicles, battery pack cost must come down to US$100/kWh. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, battery costs dropped 87% from $US1,183/kWh in 2010 to $SU156/kWh in 2019, and in 2020 are averaged at $US135/kWh.
But while battery costs continue to fall, the increased demand for electric vehicles means that a shortfall in supply must be mitigated.
In July, Musk noted that key to producing the Semi is increasing the amount of nickel, which has a very high energy density, in battery chemistry.
“There’s like two general classes of cell. There’s like iron phosphate, and then the nickel based. The nickel-based cells have higher energy density so longer range,” he said at the company’s Q2 2020 earnings call.
Morgan Stanley says that it thinks if Tesla reveals “the lowest-cost nickel-based battery chemistry in the world, that also has the highest energy density and is cobalt- free,” it will spell the end of EV competitors.
“The gap between Tesla and other EV battery manufacturers could widen to the extent that most of the leading battery manufacturers are going to face formidable challenges in keeping up with innovative technologies,” the firm wrote.
“These will affect the value of existing order books and perceived growth and returns for EV battery companies.”
Musk explained in July that high energy density is critical for production of the Semi.
“Obviously, those are needed for something like Semi, where every, every unit of mass that you add in battery pack, you have to subtract in cargo. So it’s very important to have a mass efficient and long-range pack for four batteries.”
Morgan Stanley says that Tesla could unveil battery chemistry to achieve “greater than 300 Wh/kg with a path to over 500 Wh/kg,” which could greatly reduce the cost of making them.
By diverting high energy density batteries that include nickel in vehicles that require larger batteries, such as the Semi and perhaps even the Cybertruck, Tesla can divert lower energy density batteries to vehicles with less demanding requirements.
Musk noted in July that other energy efficiency developments such as installing heat pumps instead of resistive heating mean the lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery can for vehicles such as the Standard range Plus Model 3 (it is understood that this is already being used for the China-made vehicle).
“What we’re seeing with our passenger vehicles is that our powertrain efficiency and tire efficiency, drive coefficient like basically all of the things that, like, you know, our HVAC, going to a heat pump, basically our total vehicle efficiency has gotten good enough with Model 3, for example, that we actually are comfortable having an iron phosphate battery pack in Model 3 in China,” Musk said.
Demand for Tesla electric vehicle, and therefore batteries, will only continue to ramp up as Tesla opens its Berlin Gigafactory at which it will focus on the Model Y electric crossover for the European market, which is under pressure to decarbonise to meet stringent carbon emissions reduction targets.
Musk thinks the Model Y will be more popular than the Model 3, Model S and Model Y combined.
On a local note, there is also speculation on whether Australia can gain from an increase in demand for electric vehicle batteries.
Although it is understood that the Technology Investment Roadmap released by the federal government today does not have a focus on battery production, Australia is a major producer of lithium-ion battery materials including lithium and more importantly, the 5th largest producer of nickel in 2019 according to the US Geological Survey.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.