The Elon Musk led automaker has cut prices across the board on its new models of EVs — as much as 20 percent cheaper — in the US and Europe, following substantial price cuts in China and other Asian markets that rolled out earlier this month.
The most affordable EV from Tesla’s lineup, the standard Model 3, went down from $46,990 to $43,990, a six percent drop. Not super drastic, but we’re just getting started.
Take the Model Y, which got the biggest slash of a whopping 20 percent, down from $65,990 to $52,990. That also means that the Model Y now qualifies for the $7,500 tax credit for EVs as part of the Inflation Reduction Act.
The company’s uber expensive cars, like the Model S, dropped ten percent from $104,990 to $94,990, and the Model X a nine percent fall, from $120,990 to $109,990.
Performance and Plaid versions of certain models also received significant cuts. The Model S Plaid, for example, fell 15 percent from $135,990 to $114,990, making it the biggest slash by sheer dollar amount at a $21,000 drop.
Up and Down Again
These price cuts are nothing to sneeze at, but also highlight how expensive Teslas had been previously, receiving multiple price hikes last year amid surging inflation.
There’s good reason that the price drop is coming now. As Reuters reports, Tesla missed its quarterly deliveries estimates for the end of last year, although it experienced a 40 percent rise in deliveries for the year overall. Still, that raised concerns over demand, especially in the domestic market.
Likely the biggest impetus for Tesla, however, was its dramatically declining stock in 2022, which it is yet to rebound from. Overall, it lost 65 percent of its valuation, or around $700 billion — making it Tesla’s worst year in its stock history.
Tesla stock took another minor blow after these most recent price cuts, dropping another 4.5 percent according to Reuters, but obviously the company expects the move to pay off in the long run.
Tesla’s advanced battery research group in Canada in partnership with Dalhousie University has released a new paper on a new nickel-based battery that could last 100 years while still favorably comparing to LFP cells on charging and energy density.
Back in 2016, Tesla established its “Tesla Advanced Battery Research” in Canada through a partnership with Jeff Dahn’s battery lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.
Dahn is considered a pioneer in Li-ion battery cells. He has been working on the Li-ion batteries pretty much since they were invented. He is credited for helping to increase the life cycle of the cells, which helped their commercialization.
His work now focuses mainly on a potential increase in energy density and durability, while also decreasing the cost.
One of those new leaders, Michael Metzger, along with Dahn himself, and a handful of PhDs in the program, are named as authors of a new research paper called “Li[Ni0.5Mn0.3Co0.2]O2 as a Superior Alternative to LiFePO4 for Long-Lived Low Voltage Li-Ion Cells” in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society.
The paper describes a nickel-based battery chemistry meant to compete with LFP battery cells on longevity while retaining the properties that people like in nickel-based batteries, like higher energy density, which enables longer range with fewer batteries for electric vehicles.
The group wrote in the paper’s abstract:
Single crystal Li[Ni0.5Mn0.3Co0.2]O2//graphite (NMC532) pouch cells with only sufficient graphite for operation to 3.80 V (rather than ≥4.2 V) were cycled with charging to either 3.65 V or 3.80 V to facilitate comparison with LiFePO4//graphite (LFP) pouch cells on the grounds of similar maximum charging potential and similar negative electrode utilization. The NMC532 cells, when constructed with only sufficient graphite to be charged to 3.80 V, have an energy density that exceeds that of the LFP cells and a cycle-life that greatly exceeds that of the LFP cells at 40 °C, 55 °C and 70 °C. Excellent lifetime at high temperature is demonstrated with electrolytes that contain lithium bis(fluorosulfonyl)imide (LiFSI) salt, well beyond those provided by conventional LiPF6 electrolytes.
The cells showed an impressive capacity retention over a high number of cycles:
The research group even noted that the new cell described in the paper could last a 100 years if the temperature is controlled at 25C:
Ultra-high precision coulometry and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy are used to complement cycling results and investigate the reasons for the improved performance of the NMC cells. NMC cells, particularly those balanced and charged to 3.8 V, show better coulombic efficiency, less capacity fade and higher energy density compared to LFP cells and are projected to yield lifetimes approaching a century at 25 °C.
One of the keys appears to be using an electrolyte with LiFSI lithium salts, and the paper notes that the benefits could also apply to other nickel-based chemistries, including those with no or low cobalt.
Last week, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) proposed a 10-year import ban on South Korean battery producer, SK Innovation, after the conclusion of an IP lawsuit filed by fellow South Korean battery maker, LG Chem. This decision to ban imports essentially cuts material supply from two factories with a combined capacity of almost 22GWh (9.8GWh and 11.7GWh respectively), expected to commence production in 2022 and 2023. However, there is still an option of local material sourcing, though there are limited opportunities to source the required materials, such as active cathode materials domestically within the USA at the scale required.
Roskill’s analysis shows that in 2020, the USA accounted for 1% of the global cathode materials market, which is forecast to increase to around 5% by 2030. The legislation passed by the US ITC, however, maintains SK innovation’s ability to supply battery cells to Volkswagen’s MEB line in North America for two years and Ford’s F-150 for four years, in addition to supplying spare parts for Kia models. Considering sales/production levels of Ford and Volkswagen in USA, Roskill estimates SK Innovation’s potential market size to be 9GWh through to February 2023, falling to 3GWh until February 2025, as potential to supply VW’s requirements expires. As a result, it seems unlikely for SK Innovation to invest further capital and time developing and commissioning its two USA based factories, only to achieve production of battery cells for 2-3 years at 14% planned utilization rate.
The removal of 22GWh of pipeline production capacity would represent a 10% decrease in total giga-factories capacity in North America in 2023, while EV demand in North America is expected to triple in the next five years and requires nearly 75GWh in installed battery capacity. As a result, the ITC’s decision, if not reversed or altered, would negatively impact the supply of Li-ion batteries for EV applications in the USA. The absence of SK Innovation would also place greater reliance on other battery makers in the USA, including Tesla/Panasonic, LG Chem and Envision AESC.
Roskill publishes annual Market Outlook reports for lithium-ion batteries and for a range of commodities across the lithium-ion battery supply chain, including lithium, cobalt, nickel sulphate and graphite. To see our full range of analysis, click here.
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This article was written by Egor Prokhodtsev and Kevin Shang. Please get in touch below if you wish to discuss further
Lithium is an essential component of electric vehicle batteries which occurs abundantly in the Earth’s crust in many different forms, roughly classified as pegmatites (“hard rock”), brines, and sedimentary deposits (which you may sometimes hear erroneously generalized as “clays”)
America’s Lithium Valley
Do you think driving a Tesla or plugging-in to solar power are environmentally-conscious choices? Then you should know it’s almost certain the batteries in those systems traveled around the world two or three times before they were even installed. That’s not very “green,” is it? Lithium-ion batteries, found in so many things we use every day, often have a rather costly carbon footprint. That could soon change with a discovery that’s just a couple hours north of Tesla’s Gigafactory. A Canadian mining company, LithiumAmericas, identified what’s one of the world’s largest lithium deposits inside the footprint of an ancient volcano. NBCLX Storyteller Chase Cain takes us to the ancient volcano in Nevada that could hold the future of a green energy boom in the West.
Currently, only pegmatite and brine resources are used to produce lithium chemical products commercially.
But a host of new players aiming to produce lithium using sedimentary deposits in Western North America and around the world are coming on the scene.
The sedimentary deposit projects claim to take advantage of favorable chemistry of processing the sediments, sometimes described as the “best of both worlds” when compared to pegmatites and brines. In this article, I will share what are some of the most promising features of sedimentary deposit projects, who’s working on developing these deposits, and why investors and mainstream capital markets should take them seriously as future sources of lithium chemical products. It will be helpful to understand some of the pros and cons of processing pegmatites and brines into lithium chemical products to understand the “best of both worlds” argument for the sedimentary deposits.
In pegmatites, lithium is strongly bound in crystal structures like aluminosilicates (Al, Si oxides) and because the lithium is so tightly bound in the structure, the mineral requires aggressive processing to remove it to make lithium chemicals.
Spodumene [(LiAl(SiO3)2] is the most widely mined lithium-bearing pegmatite, and has been successfully developed into a significant source of lithium commercially (representing around half of global supply in 2019). It is first dug up and crushed to smaller pieces. The crushed material is then “upgraded” to remove waste materials from the mine that are not spodumene and don’t contain lithium. Once upgraded, calcination (heating to ~1,000°C) is used to convert the crystal to a different structure that is more amenable to removing the lithium.
These high temperatures are typically generated using coal or natural gas, meaning the carbon footprint of roasting pegmatites is typically higher than processing of other lithium resources.
The roasting is a fundamental aspect of extraction of lithium from spodumene because of their crystal structure, and it is difficult to get around this. Some other pegmatites may not require this roasting step however.
Lithium Mining in Nevada
This calcination process is followed by a chemical treatment to extract the lithium. This gives a mostly pure lithium concentrate (called the leachate) which can be refined into lithium chemical products with a relatively simple technological approach involving addition of chemicals.
Pegmatites are a good source of lithium because they are easy to manipulate from a mining engineering perspective, and the leachate obtained from the chemical treatment isn’t heavily contaminated with elements with similar chemical characteristics to lithium (ex. alkali/alkaline earths like Na, K, Mg, Ca, Sr), meaning the impurities are easy to remove from the leachate. The waste produced from spodumene operations can be simply put aside or used for other applications like concrete manufacturing and other applications.
Lithium can be produced from other minerals like lepidolite and zinnwaldite using similar flowsheets to spodumene, but some modifications are required depending on the unique mineralogy.
Brine resources are very different from pegmatites from a lithium extraction and processing perspective.
Brines are high concentration salty reservoirs in which salts are dissolved (ex. Li, Na, K, Mg, Ca, Sr are common cations, or positively charged species, while Cl, SO4, BO3, and CO3 are common anions, or negatively charged species, in these resources). The minerals in brines start off as volcanic materials but over millions of years, rain and geochemical phenomena cause them to dissolve in water and concentrate in basins. Brines can be as high as 20-40% salt by mass, meaning that if you were to evaporate away the water from the brine, around 20-40% of the mass would be left behind as white or clear crystals.
Brines are liquid, meaning that they need to be pumped to the surface for processing, not dug up and crushed like pegmatites are mined. This means that they do not require roasting or leaching operations to put the lithium into solution for further processing – the lithium is already dissolved. There are two ways to remove lithium from brines.
First, evaporation pond systems can be used to evaporate the water from the brine, leaving behind contaminant salts and an “end brine” of mostly lithium chloride which is processed into lithium carbonate by adding sodium carbonate. This process only works for high lithium concentration brines with low impurities in places with no rainfall, and there is concern that if brine is pumped out from too deep in the salar, freshwater may be sucked in, diluting the salar and destroying potable water resources used by humans.
Second, direct lithium extraction (DLE) processes can be used to remove lithium from the natural brine to produce a highly pure concentrate, leaving behind a “spent brine” containing all the original components of the natural brine but without the lithium. This spent brine needs to be reinjected and/or separated from the natural brine so that the two don’t mix, or else the natural lithium-bearing brine will be diluted by the spent brine containing no lithium, making it impossible to extract more lithium from the reservoir.
As mentioned above, sedimentary deposits are considered to share some of the positive attributes of both pegmatites and brines. Sedimentary deposits are created when lithium is washed out of volcanic materials into basins where the salts and minerals dry, creating chemical structures in which the lithium is bound up in a mineral, but much less strongly compared to pegmatite resources. They typically have the consistency of dirt, not hard rock, and often break up when placed in water. If the lithium was not bound in a mineral at all, it would wash out in water forming a brine (this is typically not observed).
A number of leading projects are proposing not using any roasting, meaning the lithium is bound in the mineral with an “intermediate” strength compared to pegmatites and brines. A chemical leach is used to extract the lithium from the sediment, after which the waste sediment can be stored in mounds or back-filled into an open pit.
The lack of requirement to roast the sediment is a positive asset for these resources because it means that natural gas pipelines may not necessarily need to be built to process the sediment. Some projects report requiring upgrading of the sediment ore to remove contaminants which would “unnecessarily” consume acid, and in October 2019, only one project is proposing to use a roasting step in their flowsheet. The benefit of processing a sediment containing “loosely bound” lithium is that the solid waste can be easily disposed of without diluting the original resource, similar to the waste materials from after removing lithium from pegmatites.
The sedimentary deposit projects have some promising attributes for a future of supplying lithium to the battery industry, but reagent inputs will need to be optimized thoroughly for each individual project. Every sediment is different and the flowsheets of the different projects may look quite different. The chemistry of the sediments varies significantly (which is also the case for brines), and each project will need to take this into account. Currently, most public pre-feasibility studies show that tens to hundreds of times excess of reagents are used to create the lithium leachates. This implies low lithium concentrations in the leachate compared to pegmatite-derived leachates, and high concentrations of impurities like Na, K, and Mg.
This explains why most projects currently propose by-product sales to reduce apparent OPEX (electricity, sulfuric acid, boric acid, potash, etc.) because these are likely high OPEX flowsheets if they were “pure play” lithium.
Further, the high porosity and low particle size of the sediments mean that they “hold on” to leachate during leaching, and solid/liquid separations will be key to extracting most of the lithium as leachate from the spent ore. When this is done poorly, the ore “gums up” and a significant amount of lithium is lost with the waste.
The “in between” strength of how lithium is chemically bound in sediments results in some of their “best of both world” characteristics when compared to brines and pegmatites, and these strengths should be taken advantage of in future flowsheet development. New leaching techniques and reagent management flowsheets may be helpful in unlocking these sedimentary materials to produce high lithium concentration, low impurity concentration leachates that can be more easily processed into battery quality lithium chemical products. The sedimentary deposit lithium projects are young, but I believe that some of them will be built in the near future.
The healthy mining jurisdiction of Western North America, proximity of the deposits to American battery manufacturers, and potential for low carbon intensity means that they have excellent potential for helping supply lithium for batteries in the near future, and that they should be followed closely.
Tesla is expected to hold its Battery Day in April as Elon Musk announced during the company’s Q4 earnings call. The chief executive said the company has a “compelling story” to tell about things that can “blow people’s minds.”
These statements do not only pique the interest of the electric vehicle community; they also hint of updates that can spell disaster for legacy car manufacturers trying to catch up with Tesla in the electric vehicle market.
Batteries are key to staying on top of the electric vehicle segment and Tesla is the leader of the pack when it comes to batteries and energy efficiency. This has been validated by organizations such as Consumer Reports and even by competitors who go deep into their pockets and go as far ascutting their workforces to catch Teslain terms of hardware, software, and battery technology.
Come Tesla Battery Day, the obvious would be made more obvious. Tesla could further widen the gap and set itself apart from the rest, not just as the maker of the Model 3, Model Y, Cybertruck or other vehicles in its lineup but as an energy company.
Mass Production Of Cheaper Batteries
Batteries are among the most expensive components of an electric vehicle. This is true for Tesla and other electric vehicle manufacturers. With pricey batteries, car manufacturers cannot lower prices of their vehicles and therefore cannot encourage the mass adoption of zero-emission cars.
Tesla has reportedly been running its“Roadrunner”secret project that can lead to mass production of battery cells at $100/kWh. According to rumors, Tesla already has a pilot manufacturing line in its Fremont facility that can produce higher-density batteries using technology advancements developed in-house and gained through the Maxwell acquisition.
With a $100/kWh battery, the prices of Tesla’s vehicles can be competitive even without government subsidies.”
Tesla Gigafactory 1, where Model 3 battery cells are produced. (Photo: Tesla)
Aside from the Roadrunner project, Tesla has also been setting itself up to succeed in the battery game and dominate the market with its partnerships. It has a long relationship with Panasonic that helped it manufacture batteries in Giga Nevada, but has also signed battery supply agreements with LG Chem andCATL in China.
Battery prices have been going down significantly in the last decade. According toBloombergNEF, the cost of batteriesdroppedby 13% last year. From $1,100/kWh in 2010, the price went down to around $156.kWh in 2019. This is predicted to come close to the target $100/kWh by 2023. If Tesla achieves the $100/kWH cost sooner than the rest, it will give the company a massive advantage over its competitors and that will eventually lead to better profit margins.
Aside from cheaper batteries, the increased battery production capacity is also key in bringing products such as the all-electric Cybertruck and Tesla Semi to life.
“The thing we’re going to be really focused on is increasing battery production capacity because that’s very fundamental because if you don’t improve battery production capacity, then you end up just shifting unit volume from one product to another and you haven’t actually produced more electric vehicles… make sure we get a very steep ramp in battery production and continue to improve the cost per kilowatt-hour of the batteries,” Musk said during the Q4 2019 earnings call.
Enhanced Tesla Batteries
Tesla already has good batteries through its years of research, experimentation, and partnerships with battery producers. It hasinvested a good amount of money and effortto make sure it’s leading the battery game.
This advantage is made very clear on how Tesla was able to produce the most efficient electric SUV today in the form of the soon-to-be-released Model Y crossover with an EPA rating of 315 miles per single charge versus the Porsche Taycan with a range of around 200 miles.
When asked about Maxwell’s ultracapacitor technology during the Q4 2019 earnings call, Musk said, “It’s an important piece of the puzzle.”
Musk also referenced the Maxwell acquisition during an extensive interview at theThird Row Podcast. “It’s kind of a big deal. Maxwell has a bunch of technologies that if they are applied in the right way I think can have a very big impact,” Musk said during a Third Row Podcast interview.
There are rumors out of Chinaclaimingthat Tesla may come up with a battery that combines the best traits of Maxwell’s supercapacitors and dry electrode technologies. This could mean batteries that could charge faster, pack more energy density, and last longer.
Controlling Battery Supply
Knowing what works and what doesn’t for electric car batteries puts Tesla on top of the game. Of course, add to that what could be the best battery management system that makes Tesla vehicles among the most efficient if not the best in utilizing their batteries. With the advantage on hardware and software fronts, the thought ofTesla becoming a battery supplier is far from being a crazy idea.
Its competitors such as Audi and Jaguar have recently expressed concerns about their battery supplies as they both depend on LG Chem. Tesla– aside from its partnerships with Panasonic, LG Chem, and CATL — pushes the limit to develop its new battery cells in-house and that opens up a lot of possibilities for Tesla as a business.
“It would be consistent with the mission of Tesla to help other car companies with electric vehicles on the battery and powertrain front, possibly on other fronts. So it’s something we’re open to. We’re definitely open to supplying batteries and powertrains and perhaps other things to other car companies,” Musk was quoted as saying.
Recent job postings for acell development engineerandequipment development engineerssuggest that Tesla might actually be considering the idea of introducing a battery line of its own. But of course, the next-generation batteries would be first used for its vehicle lineup. Once it meets that demand and hits economies of scale, one can only imagine how Tesla could play the important role of supplying batteries to other carmakers.
Whether Tesla would announce cheaper batteries, enhanced electric car batteries, or give updates about its efforts, Battery Day in April will most definitely be worth the wait. For other car manufacturers, time would pause during that day as they listen to what Elon Musk and his team will say. And most likely, after the company talk, other car manufacturers will have to go back to their drawing boards once more in an attempt to catch up.
Teslaand Rivian are both modern automakers dedicated to producing only electric vehicles. Both bought mothballed conventional assembly plants to build their new vehicles. Both have reconfigured those facilities as they grapple with how to disrupt manufacturing as their vehicles have aimed to disrupt the auto industry.
One difference: While Tesla CEO Elon Musk spent nights in a sleeping bag at the end of the assembly line at the plant in Fremont, California, Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe has the good sense to sleep in his own bed while overseeing the developing manufacturing process at his company’s plant in Normal, Illinois.
Rivian bought the Normal plant fromMitsubishiin 2017 for $16 million and is preparing it to make an interesting assortment of vehicles. So far, all Rivian prototypes have been built at the Plymouth Engineering and Design Center, but pilot-build vehicles will go down the plant line in the third quarter, with full production ofthe Rivan R1T five-passenger electric pickupstarting in December.
The factory will have one line dedicated to building a skateboard chassis that all three brands will share—skateboard EV chassis bundle the battery pack(s), suspension, electric motors, and other hardware in a vertically short package so that various bodies can be attached. There will be another line tasked with assembling the three different battery packs Rivian will offer, and it will feed those directly to the skateboard-chassis line.
The Ford And Amazon EVs
Ford is designing its own so-called “top hat”—an EV-specific term for the vehicle bodies that use the skateboard architecture—for its high-end electric SUV, but since it will ride on the common architecture, features such as the company’s unique infotainment system must be designed to run on Rivian’s electrical systems. Scaringe would not say when Ford production begins, but design and engineering are locked in and ready to roll. “It’s a very different product from our own SUV, but it’s still in the SUV space,” Scaringe says. While Rivian is going after the adventure market, Ford will pursue luxury buyers, which leads us to deduce it will be sold as aLincoln. Scaringe would not confirm this supposition, as it’s Ford’s announcement to make, he said. He did say the Ford SUV is “an impressive product, to say the least.”
The Amazon Prime vans will have access to the same three battery packs, and use the same electrical architecture and some drivetrains, as well as share some engine control units. To finish vehicles so wildly different in mission, there will be two separate final trim-assembly lines at the Normal plant. One will be a high-content line handling the Rivian and Ford products, while a second, low-content line will finish the Prime vans, which are essentially big, empty boxes to be filled with parcels.
Musk has said he wants to revolutionize the way vehicles are manufactured. He raised eyebrows with experiments such as his self-admittedly ill-thought robot he called the “flufferbot,” which proved to be more of a hindrance than a leap of efficiency in its attempts to place fiberglass mats atop battery packs. His firm also started building the Model 3 in a tent in 2018 to increase production. But with those experiments behind Tesla, production has normalized, and the automaker delivered a record 112,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter of 2019.
Rivian’s Plant Plans
Scaringe is not necessarily trying to reinvent car building, but he says he has spent a lot of time thinking about how assembly should be done to meet the unique needs of the varied vehicles his company will build. Out of necessity, he’s mapping out the way the former Mitsubishi small-car plant should be laid out to handle its new disparate needs.
The original Mitsubishi plant was 2.6 million square feet, and Rivian has added another 400,000 square feet. Some aspects of the plant are still usable, including some stamping presses, but they needed modifications to handle the steel and aluminum used in the bodies of the delivery vans and the mostly aluminum bodies of the R1T and R1S—the latter need to be picked up via suction cups, not magnets, for example. Presumably, the Ford SUV will feature an aluminum body, as well, given that the company has embraced that strategy with its pickups and large SUVs.
The partnership with Ford has been helpful in this regard, Scaringe says. Ford spent billions revamping its plants to switch the current generation of F-Series pickups and large SUVs to aluminum construction, and the Dearborn-based company now makes about 1 million aluminum-intensive vehicles a year. Ford employees have been generous with their time and expertise in helping Rivian.
The existing paint shop at the Rivian plant had to be scrapped; designed for littler cars, it was many sizes too small. Scaringe could probably sell tickets to watch the new e-coating process that dips vehicle bodies to prevent corrosion.
LikeBMWdoes at its Spartanburg, South Carolina, plant, Scaringe wants vehicles to enter the tank and flip, end over end, four times, to prevent air bubbles that could lead to rust—picture that body ballet with a 30-foot-long delivery van. The plant ceilings aren’t high enough for this, though, so to solve the problem Rivian lowered the floor, digging an eight-foot pit with giant moorings to house dip tanks that stand about 33 feet tall. Scaringe thinks this makes it the world’s largest dip-process setup.
Rivian was founded in 2009 and has since grown to more than 1,800 employees. It could reach 2,500 or more by year’s end as hiring ramps up for the plant while the development team has continued to expand. The Plymouth headquarters is bursting at the seams. The cafeteria area is filled with desks until more office space on a mezzanine level is ready to house more workspace.
At the Normal plant, assembly will be on a single shift initially, but some areas, such as battery lines, will run a second shift.
The two Rivian models have 90 percent shared content—they are identical from the B-pillar forward—and were designed to have an identical build process for ease of assembly.
Normal has the capacity to make 264,000 vehicles a year. The Amazon contract is for 100,000, which Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said will be filled by 2024. The rest of the capacity is for Rivian and Ford vehicles. On the Rivian side, Scaringe thinks there will be greater demand for the pickup initially, but eventually, orders will be equal for the truck and SUV. And the Rivian lineup will expand.
At the Tesla Autonomy Event in April, Elon Musk said the Disruptors of Detroit were working on a new battery pack that would last a cool million miles, and said it would be available next year. Now Tesla battery research partner Jeff Dahn and his team have released a paper in which they describe this million-mile battery cell.
The new Li-ion battery cell features a next-generation “single crystal” NMC cathode and a new type of electrolyte. Dahn’s team has extensively tested the cells, and believe they could enable a battery pack that lasts over a million miles in an EV.
“Up to three years of testing has been completed for some of the tests. Tests include long-term charge-discharge cycling at 20, 40 and 55° C, long-term storage at 20, 40 and 55° C, and high precision coulometry at 40° C. Several different electrolytes are considered in this LiNi0.5Mn0.3Co0.2O2/graphite chemistry, including those that can promote fast charging. The reasons for cell performance degradation and impedance growth are examined using several methods. We conclude that cells of this type should be able to power an electric vehicle for over 1.6 million kilometers (1 million miles) and last at least two decades in grid energy storage.”
This is a huge advance – the new cells last two to three times longer than Tesla’s current cells – and if the company can bring the new technology into production in a reasonable timeframe, it could radically change the economics of EVs.
The paper notes the importance of long-lasting batteries for such vehicles as robotaxis, long-haul trucks and transit buses. In these applications, a battery’s ability to deliver a high number of charge/discharge cycles is critical, in contrast to the consumer vehicle market, in which maximum range is the most important feature (at least from a marketing standpoint).
The paper also mentions vehicle-to-grid applications, which could someday allow EV owners to earn revenue from their cars while they aren’t being driven (see the upcoming issue of Charged for a profile of Fermata Energy, a pioneer in this space).
Meanwhile, job listings on Tesla’s web site seem to confirm rumors that the company plans to start manufacturing its own battery cells (as reported by Electrek).
Tesla watchers know that Jeff Dahn and his team at Dalhousie University near Halifax, Nova Scotia, are world leaders in lithium-ion battery research. For years, Dahn worked exclusively for 3M, but when that arrangement ended, Tesla swooped in and signed a contract for Dahn to work for the Silicon Valley car/tech/energy company.
In addition, solid-state batteries are less like to catch fire or explode if they get too hot. That in turn means electric car manufacturers can make simpler, less costly cooling systems for their battery packs, driving down the cost of EVs. It also reassures the public their shiny new electric cars aren’t going to explode in the garage, as recently happened to the owner of a Hyundai Kona EV in Canada.
Research published by Dahn and his team in the journal Nature Energy on July 15 reveals they have created new lithium-ion pouch cells that may outperform solid-state technology battery. Here’s the abstract of that research report:
“Cells with lithium-metal anodes are viewed as the most viable future technology, with higher energy density than existing lithium-ion batteries. Many researchers believe that for lithium-metal cells, the typical liquid electrolyte used in lithium-ion batteries must be replaced with a solid-state electrolyte to maintain the flat, dendrite-free lithium morphologies necessary for long-term stable cycling.
“Here, we show that anode-free lithium-metal pouch cells with a dual-salt LiDFOB/LiBF4 liquid electrolyte have 80% capacity remaining after 90 charge–discharge cycles, which is the longest life demonstrated to date for cells with zero excess lithium. The liquid electrolyte enables smooth dendrite-free lithium morphology comprised of densely packed columns even after 50 charge — discharge cycles. NMR measurements reveal that the electrolyte salts responsible for the excellent lithium morphology are slowly consumed during cycling.”
Credit: Jeff Dahn, et al./Nature Energy
Those pesky dendrites are the bane of lithium-ion batteries. They are little projections like stalagmites in caves that can poke through the insulating layer inside individual cells, leading to short circuits and potential fires. Eliminating them would be a big step forward, particularly for use in electric vehicles.
Is Tesla on the verge of replacing the cylindrical cells in its battery packs with Jeff Dahn’s pouch cells? Not just yet. There is a lot of research and testing left to do before they becomes suitable for commercial production, but they may signal an important step forward for energy storage in the years ahead.
Below is a video of Dahn when he won the prestigious National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada award in 2017. Here is a fellow who knows what he is talking about. If he says pouch cells can outperform solid state cells, we should pay heed.
The latest news in the battery space has been about alternatives to lithium-ion technology, which still dominates the space in electronics and cars but is being increasingly challenged from several directions, notably solid-state batteries.
Now, a team of researchers has reported they have improved lithium-ion batteries in a way that could discourage some challengers.
In apaperpublished in Nature magazine, the team, led by Jeff Dahn from Dalhousie University, reports they had designed more battery cells with higher energy density without using the solid-state electrolyte that many believe is a necessary condition for enhanced density.
What’s more, the battery cell the team designed demonstrated a longer life than some comparable alternatives.
The team from Dalhousie University was working with Tesla’s Canadian research and development team, Electreknotesin its report of the news, as well as the University of Waterloo.
The EV maker is probably the staunchest proponent of lithium-ion technology for electric car batteries, so it would make sense for it to continue investing in research that would keep the technology’s dominance in the face of multiple challengers.
Recently, for example, Japanese researchersannouncedthey had successfully found a substitute for the lithium ions used in batteries and this substitute was much cheaper and more abundant: sodium.
Last year, scientists from the Australian University of Wollongong announced
they had solved a problem with sodium batteries that made them too expensive to produce, namely a lot of the other materials used in such an installation besides the sodium itself.
Sodium batteries are among the more advanced challengers to lithium ion dominance, but like other alternatives to Li-ion batteries, they have been plagued by persistent problems with their performance. Even so, workcontinuesto make them competitive with lithium-ion technology.
This fact has probably made li-ion proponents such as Tesla, who have invested substantial amounts in the technology, double their efforts to improve their batteries’ performance or reduce their cost.
As the most expensive component of an electric car, the battery is a top priority for R&D departments in the car-making industry.
Earlier this year, German scientistssaidthey had found a way to make lithium ion batteries charge much faster. Charing times are the second most important consideration after cost for potential EV buyers, and another priority for EV makers. What the scientists did was replace the cobalt oxide used in the cathode of a lithium ion battery with another compound, vanadium disulfide.
Millions of electric cars are expected to hit the roads in the coming years. From a certain perspective, the race to faster charging is the race that will make or break the long-term mainstream future of the EV, which, it turns out, is not as certain as some would think.
A J.D.Powersurveyrecently revealed that people are not particularly crazy about EVs, and the reasons they are not crazy about them have to do a lot with the batteries: charging times and range, plus price. In this context, the battery improvement race could (and will) only intensify further.
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