Tesla Makes Progress in Pursuit of a Battery Breakthrough

By · May 12, 2017

A researcher working for Tesla said this week that the life of electric car batteries could be extended to 20 years of use. Jeff Dahn of Dalhousie University, based in Nova Scotia, said that battery life—the capability of cells to maintain their energy and power capacity over time—is one of his four critical interrelated research goals. The other three are lower costs, increased energy density and improved safety.

“Doubling the lifetime of the cells was exceeded in round one,” said Dahn in a presentation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The use of an aluminum coating appeared to be helpful in extending the longevity of cells. “We have another four years to go,” said Dahn. “So we’re going to go as far as we can.”

Panasonic is Tesla’s battery partner. “We think the existing technology can extend the energy density of lithium-ion batteries by 20 to 30 percent,” said Kazuhiro Tsuga, Panasonic’s president, as reported last month by Japan’s Nikkei. Increased energy density and reduced costs are the keys to offering long-range electric cars at an affordable price.

Tesla is not alone in its pursuit of next-generation batteries, such as solid state, metal-air and better cathodes. As one example, Toyota established a research division a decade ago with the goal of producing “revolutionary batteries.” In fact, going back to 1925, Sakichi Toyoda, the inventor of Japan’s first power loom, established a prize for the invention of a car battery that store as much energy as found in a gasoline tank. A century later, the auto industry continues to seek an affordable battery that could help EVs displace internal combustion vehicles.

In a 2011 speech, former Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said that dramatic improvements in range, size and affordability are around the corner. “Is there any hope of being competitive with an internal combustion car engine? The answer is yes,” Chu said, as reported by Bloomberg. “It’s not like it’s 10 years off. It's about five years, and it could be sooner. Meanwhile, the batteries we have today are soon going to get better by a factor of two." The Secretary said tomorrow's batteries would be required to last at least 15 years; provide six to seven times more power, and have a price that’s reduced by one-third (from 2011 prices).

Dahn’s research project with Tesla is only one year into a five-year effort—and is already being utilized in “2170” cells being produced in Tesla’s Nevada-based Gigafactory.

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