The tech industry was all abuzz in the days leading up to Tesla’s Battery Day event, an event in which the electric vehicle manufacturer was expected to rock the world with a major new development in lithium-ion batteries. Tesla did have some good news about ambitious plans for the future, but it wasn’t as earth-shattering as so many were expecting.
Tesla’s most important announcement on Battery Day was that they are now designing and building a new type of battery in-house. The ‘tabless’ battery allegedly offers more energy, more power, and more range. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said their patented design should cut the cost of battery production by as much as 56%.
All of this is stunning news to casual observers. To experts however, most of what Musk had to say was expected – if not on Battery Day, at some point in the future. The tech world has known for a long time that Tesla is intent on winning the electric vehicle race by coming up with batteries no one else can match.
Better Lithium-Ion Engineering
Tesla’s work is fascinating on multiple fronts. For starters, they are working with lithium-ion batteries not too dissimilar from the batteries that power our computers and cell phones. The same fundamental concepts upon which Salt Lake City’s Pale Blue Earth build their retail consumer batteries are the foundation of high-powered electric vehicle batteries.
What drives carmakers crazy about this technology is the amount of power and energy available commensurate with the size of the battery itself. For example, lithium-ion batteries offer higher energy density compared to alkaline batteries. That is why one of Pale Blue Earth’s AA batteries weighs less than a comparable alkaline.
Still, lithium-ion batteries for automotive use have to be sizable. And in order to get enough range, you have to install multiple batteries in a single vehicle. Each battery adds weight which, in turn, puts a greater load on the motor. That means more electricity needed to run the motor. You end up with a vicious cycle that is hard to break out of.
Tesla’s Tabless Battery Concept
So, what is Tesla doing to change the game? According to Musk, their new battery eliminates the tabs normally used to transfer energy from battery to drive train. The tabs have been replaced by a series of bumps and spikes. No one really knows what that looks like as Tesla is rightly protecting its patents. In whichever way it works, the company is convinced that the design is superior to tabbed batteries.
More important is the fact that Tesla is handling everything with this new battery. Even as they continue buying batteries from other suppliers, they will control everything about their new battery in-house. They will develop it. They will mass-produce it. They will improve the design over many years.
Controlling the entire process from start to finish gives Tesla the ability to develop batteries, drivetrains, and motors in unison rather than having to coordinate with multiple partners. In theory, this should lead to greater efficiency and lower costs. We will have to wait to see how it all pans out.
At any rate, Tesla says it could be 12 to 18 months before their new battery is ready for full production. But as with all things Tesla, deadlines are subject to change. So is engineering and design. It would surprise no one if the company made an announcement sometime next year saying they have abandoned this new battery in favor of something else. That is just the way it goes with Tesla. Now we wait for Battery Day 2021.