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Will Tesla build its own battery?

Will Tesla build its own battery?

There is a mega factory coming up, isn't it? Will they go for a newer better chemistry and form factor?

Care to speculate?

hillcountryfun | January 21, 2014

I would be surprised if they alter the chemistry contained in the cells produced from the new Tesla/Panasonic/Google Mega factory. I think their approach will be to scale and automate to the max such that costs are driven as low as possible. Once that is achieved I think they will begin looking at improving the cell.

"Is what I think..."

SamO | January 21, 2014

The chemistry of the Tesla battery is not "off the shelf" but a custom design and chemistry.

Elon was recently asked about the form factor and he indicated that a slightly larger form (both fatter and longer) would be more efficient, but stopped short of saying they would make any changes.

That being said, chemistry and energy densities are changing and Tesla will take advantage of those changes with each generation of technology.

RedShift | January 21, 2014

Makes sense. Tesla is a car company, leave the chemistry to others.

PapaSmurf | January 21, 2014

The battery cells are so critical to the electric vehicle, and such a large percentage of the overall cost of the vehicle, that I think Tesla should bring all of it in-house.

Leaving it to others makes sense when it is not your core business, such as production of USB cables or leather seats or tires.

But if a key component is not in your control, then you are at the mercy of a 3rd party. Tesla obviously feels that they are constrained in their production ability due to the lack of cells. They should definitely build their own battery division that does all of the following:

1) own the battery cell manufacturing facility at maximum scale for lowest cost
2) do R&D on specific automative applications with optimal chemistry for transportation
3) design battery packs with liquid-cooling
4) write the software for battery management system
5) handle end of life battery packs that are then either recycled or transferred to Solar City for home energy storage

shop | January 21, 2014

@Papa, I agree with everything you wrote. However Tesla most likely does not own any significant patents on battery technology. So the mega factory will almost certainly be a joint venture with an existing battery company that has a patent portfolio. In fact, probably a JV with more than one battery technology company.

My guess is that there is some improvements in cell chemistry, anodes, cathodes and electrolytes that would be incorporated into a new battery. There are startups that have patents in just the anode material, for example.

I would also guess that they would change the form factor slightly as well. But that carries risk because they don't have the massive amount of testing they now have with their current form factor.

lvaneveld | January 21, 2014

I believe they will build and operate the plant with partners though I would prefer to see them retain control. I expect this plant to dominate worldwide battery production of this form factor, though certainly others will exist as well. I expect the initial products to remain with the 18650 form factor, but at a higher power and energy density than their current batteries. At that point they will probably use these new batteries I the model S and X as well as gen III.

RedShift | January 21, 2014

I think the heavy R&D costs associated with a new battery chemistry and form factor would distract Tesla in the short term. Not sure if they can afford that right now.

However, I do agree with Papasmurf that vertical integration is what Elon would probably love to do, even if it means acquiring a few patents/startups or having joint ventures.

If they can increase capacity and reduce flammability or even make it non flammable, that would be awesome.

Then they can start to reduce the weight. :-)

jonlivesay | January 21, 2014

Yes they will, absolutely.

ian t.wa.us | January 21, 2014

As a counter point, I hope they don't get too tied into the production of these form factor batteries in case someone makes a breakthrough with some other tech. Elon and JB have both stated they aren't wedded to this tech, but if they invest in this huge factory they will be.

Yes, I'm aware there isn't anything better than what they're using currently but just in case and to play devils advocate... ;-)

lolachampcar | January 22, 2014

It is a lot like asking if a lady is a little pregnant.

Tesla has significant battery IP. The cells they use can only be used in a Tesla. Tesla's end product is defined by the battery.

So, Tesla is in the battery business; they are just currently using a vendor's equipment.

Tesla will likely continue to partner with vendor(s) in the MegaFactory as there is no reason for them to do the low value elements of battery construction for the margins involved.

Tesla will always be at the task of battery development and will change chemistries often. Most changes will be evolutionary while some, hopefully, will be revolutionary. The battery is a moving target and Tesla is a moving company.

Lastly, Elon has no problem devoting dedicated brain power to things that matter. If they matter, he does not consider them to be a distraction. Again, batteries are BeVs. All the rest is fancy motors, software and aluminum that helps to transport the battery from location to location. Elon/Tesla will always have a dedicated team working the battery problem.

Tesla is building and will continue to build its own batteries.

lolachampcar | January 22, 2014
Car t man | January 22, 2014

They should start off with a completely new cell, dedicated to EVs and grids, if they're doing it from scratch and can. These cells are legacy. Built and designed for laptops, etc.. Yes, they stacked them together wonderfully and it works, but when starting such a large new project, you should start it with the future use in mind. Less and larger cells...

Car t man | January 22, 2014

Possible done in SCIB (Toshiba) like fashion, where they can simply be stacked in series or parallel, with ease, to get to whichever voltage and capacity, for numerous applications. If they're serious about using the volumes to also
get to other applications etc.

carlk | January 22, 2014

I totally agree with Lola. Any car companies can make the car but not the battery and drive train like Tesla's. Why else that Diamler and Toyota could not even reverse engineer and make their own EV drive train now even that they are in the best position to do so than anyone else? Diamler is still talking about more cooperation with Tesla and Toyota seems to be giving up (too hard for them?).

jhw1009 | January 22, 2014

From hardware standpoint, battery is the crown jewel to EV as microprocessor is to PC. I agree that Tesla should take control of the mega factory but it doesn’t mean they cannot partner with company like Panasonic who can handle the operations. I can count there are at least 5-7 viable battery research/development projects going on in the industry and TM can take advantage of cross licensing the leading edge battery technology for their upgrade or in time for the Gen3, Gen4 vehicles. The 18650 cell may be end-of-life sooner than we expect. I think TM wants to expand the mega factory to supply to other companies like Diamler for their EVs.

One other item I want to point out is the location of the mega factory is critical (likewise the Gen3 factory) due to many natural disasters and not put all eggs in one basket. The Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Japan’s Tsunami in 2011, Hurricane Katrina in 2015 and many earthquakes in CA, thought us a good lessons. I suspect TM totally understands that.

Haeze | January 22, 2014

@Car t man
Elon has already spoken publicly saying he is against the idea of larger form-factor cells. They are not as fault-tolerant (if one cell goes bad, the pack disables it, but if it is a larger cell, that is a significant loss), and they are more prone to fire since you can only cool the surface of the cell making thermal runaway harder to prevent.

Jolinar | January 22, 2014

@Car t man

JB not long time ago stated that he don't understand why form factor of battery matters to the people, but form factor of gas tank does not matter to the people... It's cheaper to do many small cells so they are doing it that way...

DonS | January 22, 2014

The basic cell chemistry and materials processing will come from the battery company. Optimization of the cellb size and anode for Tesla's EV needs will come out of Tesla. The point of having a partner is to take advantage of what each already knows and does best.

Car t man | January 22, 2014

It is cheaper because it was already in production. It isn't optimal.
And an 100Ah 3.2v cell costs well under 100$ to produce, so cost of
a cell that would potentially go bad also isn't a real issue..

Anyway, just my opinion.