Tesla has been putting prototypes of its energy dense, high nickel 4680 cells into vehicles for some months, Elon Musk said on Sunday.
Musk shared Tesla’s long-term goal of sustainable energy storage at Battery Day last week, including a plan to power energy-hungry vehicles such as its electric Semi and Cybertruck with high-nickel batteries in a wider, larger form factor.
Musk’s plan is to accelerate the path to sustainable energy ands transport by working out how to make high-energy cells with less or no cobalt, particularly for vehicles that require more energy, and it was met by enthusiasm by fans.
However, critics questioned why no physical example of the 4680 battery cell was shown by Musk at the event, and it was not entirely clear whether comments about a strategy to use a “diversified cathode approach” meant it would use different cathodes in the larger cell format.
Musk has now clarified that Tesla will produce high-energy cathodes for the 4680 cell (at least for now), and that these batteries have been used in prototype form in vehicles for some months now.
The clarification came via a response to Tesla blogger “Whole Mars Catalog“, who asked if Tesla would make three different cathodes, or did the diversified approach refer to continuing to rely on battery cell partners such as CATL, Panasonic and LG Chem to supply other less dense cells.
“We’re only doing high energy nickel ourselves, at least for now. Also, maybe the presentation wasn’t clear that we’ve actually had our cells in packs driving cars for several months,” Musk said, adding that, “Prototypes are trivial, volume production is hard.”
Suppliers. We’re only doing high energy nickel ourselves, at least for now. Also, maybe the presentation wasn’t clear that we’ve actually had our cells in packs driving cars for several months. Prototypes are trivial, volume production is hard.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 26, 2020
Musk did not clarify further which vehicles the prototype 4680 batteries are being used in, although one educated guess might be that the Cybertruck that Musk has been seen driving around Los Angeles could be one of them.
What is known is that the prototype cells are being made at the Kato Road facility next to Tesla’s Fremont electric vehicle factory.
It is also understood that the larger 4680 form factor will allow Tesla to pack more battery capacity (in terms of volume) into the same space as its current 2170 packs.
In a video made about the new 4680 cell by auto engineer Sandy Munro which is known for his vehicle teardowns, he estimates that Tesla could nearly double the battery capacity even if only using the same chemistry as in the 2170 cells.
Other efficiencies will also be achieved using the 4680 cell, says Munro, simply because there will be less steel needed for the cell packs, and because there is no need for cooling components between cells because of the 4680’s tabless technology.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter 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 3 and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.