Tesla CEO and co-founder Elon Musk says that the company will make a $US25,000 (about $A35,000) electric vehicle by 2023, thanks to massive reductions in battery cell production costs revealed at its long-awaited Battery Day event in Fremont, California.
Speaking at the event with Drew Baglino, senior VP for powertrain and energy engineering, Musk revealed a range of battery and body engineering developments that will allow Tesla to reduce battery manufacturing costs by a massive 56 per cent, and deliver an increase in range of 54 per cent.
“This bodes well for the future,” said Musk. “The long term scaling of Tesla will be massively increased.”
There was no mention, however, of the much anticipated million-mile battery, based on a single crystal cathode patent published by Tesla’s battery partner research team headed by Dalhousie’s Jeff Dahn. Instead, there was the promise of significant gains along the supply chain, and Tesla’s plan to do lithium mining and cell production itself.
At the start of the event, which was held in front of an audience sitting in Tesla cars and hundreds of thousands watching online, Musk noted the importance of transitioning the world to clean energy and transport.
“The past five years were the hottest on record,” he said. “This time is not like the past, it’s really important we take action.”
But to transition the world to renewably-sourced energy production and storage as well as transport would take in the order of 20-25 terawatt-hour production of battery capacity per year, Musk said.
“It’s a lot of batteries,” he said, noting for comparison that Tesla’s Nevada gigafactory currently outputs 150GWh capacity a year.
Musk and Baglino went on to describe a number of battery manufacturing developments that Tesla will implement over the next 12-18 months that will help the company increase its battery capacity output to 3 terawatt-hours, or 3,000 gigawatt-hours, by 2023 adding that Tesla cannot do it alone and urging other battery and car makers to step up.
The sum of all Tesla’s new developments, once implemented, would include a driving range increase of 54%, a reduction in kilowatt-hour costs of 56%, and an investment reduction of 69%.
Five factors would help Tesla bring electric vehicle production down significantly, the pair outlined, including cell design, battery factory size and therefore investment, anode and cathode production processes and integration of batteries into the vehicle.
Cell design and form factor
The 4680 battery (that has a diameter of 46mm and length of 80mm) without a tab will underpin cheaper electric vehicle production, said Elon Musk, adding that Tesla’s new battery development will deliver five times the energy density of battery packs, reduce cell design costs by 14%/kWh, add 16% range and output six times the power.
Musk described it as “a massive breakthrough”, and Baglino underlined that removing the tab not only dramatically reduces manufacturing costs, but also has “enormous thermal benefit”.
And the company is already ramping up production of the cells at a pilot 10kW factory (known as the “Roadrunner” project”) at a facility on Keto Road.
Baglino also spoke about assembly, saying that every facet of production has been considered for the internal design system.
The end result is a seven times increase in output per line, said Baglino.
Musk said every inch of the factory floor has been analysed to increase output per square foot, and that by increasing more output that Tesla could achieve far more battery production output than other factories.
He reiterated the need to transition to sustainable energy, and that more battery production was integral to this.
The reduction in factory floor space would also dramatically reduce the cost of investment per kilowatt-hour, said Musk.
“It is about four times cheaper,” he said. Tesla’s chart above notes this cost cut accounts for an 18% saving per kilowatt-hour.
Musk said the company would be making three terawatt-hours of batteries by 2030.
“It allows us to make a lot more cars and a lot more stationary storage,” he said. “We have a good chance of achieving this by 2030.”
Dry cell electrode
Musk also spoke about using a dry electrode that would reduce the energy needed to make batteries tenfold, although he also noted that “simple is hard” and the company was still working on how to do this on a large scale.
Likely, the technology Musk referred to is a version of that developed by Maxwell Technologies, which Tesla acquired in 2019 and which Musk has previously said will be key to the Cybertruck battery.
Musk and Baglino took the audience of shareholders briefly through the wet electrode process, which is messy, takes up more factory space as components are laid out to dry, and which a dry electrode process would replace. Although the dry electrode process is in essence simpler and has zero waste water, Musk noted that doing it at scale is actually very hard.
Once achieved at scale, there would be a “total improvement in energy density and cost,” added Musk – a 12% saving according to Tesla’s chart.
Baglino also explained that Tesla was working to include more silicon in its batteries. Silicon has a lot of potential for increasing battery energy density but tends to expand.
He said Tesla has developed its use of raw metallurgical silicon using proprietary processes to stablise the surface, and adding a highly elastic binder. According to Musk, this new process would deliver an increase driving range by 20% on that development alone.
“It is cheaper and longer range,” he said. A screen behind the two showed that standard silicon processes currently cost $US6.6 per kWh while Tesla’s process costs $US1.2 per kWh.
Nickel to replace cobalt, lithium aplenty
Musk and Baglino also discussed the company’s goal to increase nickel use in batteries and reducing cobalt in its cathodes.
“Increasing nickel is a goal of ours,” said Musk, adding that cobalt is used because it is stable, but the challenge is stabilising nickel without cobalt.
By eliminating the use of cobalt, Musk said that Tesla could achieve a 15% reduction in cathode costs.
Musk also said Tesla had developed a lithium process and had secured its own lithium clay deposit that he said would supply enough lithium for all US-made vehicles for the future.
Tesla will take that raw lithium material and use table salt to extract the lithium from clay.
“We take the dirt and take lithium out and put the lump of dirt back,” he said.
In addition, Musk said Tesla would start recycling batteries in Nevada in Q4 2020. This would allow the car maket to achieve another 12% saving in costs of battery production, down a total of 49%.
Using battery as part of the vehicle body
As we already know, Tesla has ordered massive casting machines known as “Giga Presses” to make single piece castings to reduce the amount of pieces needed to make a vehicle.
Musk added today that Tesla had developed its own aluminium alloy that did not require coatings or heat treatment and which reduced manufacturing costs by more than 50% and factory floor space by 35%, as well as reducing costs per kilowatt by another 7% for a total 56% reduction.
Musk added that Tesla would start using the battery as an integral part of the vehicle’s structure.
“All EVs will be made this way,” said Musk, adding he thought car makers who did not move to this method of making a car would be left behind.
Likening to the process to that used in aviation where fuel tanks were a structural part of the plane, Musk said that a structural adhesive would be used to glues cells to a top and bottom sheet to create an extremely stiff component.
Doing this could offer a 14% range increase opportunity and use 370 fewer parts, the pair revealed.
“It’s a revolution in battery and body engineering,” said Musk. “This gives incredible stiffness — this is actually better than what aircraft do, because aircraft use fuel which is liquid.”
Bridie Schmidt is associate editor for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model Y and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.