A million-mile battery, cheaper than ever, with production at high speed. It’s a special edition Musk Reads #200, featuring an Inverse interview with “The Limiting Factor” host Jordan Giesige.
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“It’s such a massive improvement that it might land Jeff Dahn a Nobel Prize at some point.”
- Jordan Giesige, host of YouTube channel “The Limiting Factor.” Giesige has experience in both physical factory work and office-based intellectual property roles. His channel, which builds on these experiences, offers a deep dive into the roadblocks that technology hits and how to move past them – namely, the battery that powers practically everything.
What you need to know
- Tesla has been working on new battery technologies for several years. These efforts are expected to culminate on Battery Day, set to take place on September 22.
- Battery advancements help to move the “spider diagram” in one or two areas: energy density, charge and discharge rate, durability, cycling ability, cost, ease of manufacture. Giesige says Tesla’s Battery Day will likely show “an improvement in every aspect of the spider diagram.”
- This could lead to cheaper electric cars, better grid-based storage, and all-new vehicles – perhaps even an electric jet.
The deep dive
Tesla is building a more advanced battery that could improve its electric vehicles, boost the grid-based storage used to provide a constant source of renewable energy, and even create new ways to get around.
Battery Day is expected to explain these advancements in detail. The livestream event is scheduled to take place immediately after Tesla’s annual stockholder meeting, which is slated for Tuesday, September 22 at 1:30 p.m. Pacific time. In January 2020, Musk described the event as “one of the most exciting days in Tesla’s history.”
Giesige, who spoke with Inverse in a May phone interview and via email in September, explains that there are two factors at play with Tesla’s research. The first is Jeff Dahn, recognized as one of the pioneers of the lithium-ion battery. Dahn started a five-year research partnership with Tesla in 2016. One of his biggest breakthroughs is to develop equipment that can identify battery inefficiencies.
“A battery cell is a closed system,” Giesige says. “So any inefficiencies you have in that system, even if it’s a tiny inefficiency of 0.001 percent, that means your battery’s going to degrade rapidly.”
Dahn has gradually identified factors that can degrade a battery and worked to reduce them. He published a research paper in September 2019 in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society detailing a battery that can last for 1 million miles. This compares to the Tesla Model 3, which aims for 70 percent battery retention over eight years or 120,000 miles. A million-mile battery, Giesige argues, could boost the resale value of Tesla’s vehicles.
The second factor is Maxwell Technologies. Tesla bought the firm in February 2019 for $218 million.
“That’s a big kettle of fish,” Giesige says.
The firm is working on what’s called dry battery electrode technology. With a regular battery, the manufacturer applies a wet slurry to the electrode foil and then uses hundreds of meters of drying lines to evaporate the material. Dry battery electrode, as the name implies, skips this process, speeding up manufacturing.
The technology also stops the battery from degrading so fast, as the liquid solvent isn’t being put into the battery. That means better performance over time, reduced heat, and the ability to store more active material. That, in turn, means greater energy density.
A “dry battery electrode” is not the same as a solid state battery, another term that occasionally crops up in these discussions. In the case of a liquid electrolyte, the goal is to move an ion through a liquid. For a solid state battery, the goal is to get the ion to tunnel through a solid material. Proponents of the technology claim it could offer big benefits like moving away from flammable designs, but Giesige explains that, so far, it’s failed to demonstrate something that could move the “spider diagram” in all directions.
“Solid state, if they can ever get it right, is very promising, but so far, nobody has been able to create a solid electrolyte that can do everything well the same way that a liquid electrolyte can,” Giesige says.