The Battery Series: How Tesla wants to keep world leadership?
Tesla Roadster, produced between 2008 and 2012, is the company's first electric vehicle (EV). After more than ten years, Tesla offers several models, expanded by the addition of the Cybertruck and Tesla Semi truck.
Leader in battery electric vehicle (BEV) sales, Tesla sold over 1.31 million all-electric cars in 2022, with the Tesla Model Y representing over 771,000 (Statista). Ranked the most valuable automotive brand worldwide as of June 2023, Tesla now aims to supply its massive need for batteries, taking a significant step with the 4680 battery.
The new generation battery of Tesla, the 4680 battery cell, was announced in 2020. In April 2023, the EV maker released updates on the 4680 and said the 'pilot' facility in Fremont, California, will be expanded for manufacturing the new battery cell and continue in the Gigafactory in Austin, Texas.
4680 is the critical component in Tesla's new structural battery pack design, which will be included in Tesla Model Y and other models, most notably the Cybertruck. Tesla aims to ramp up the 4680 production before Cybertruck assembly reaches full scale in early 2024, which started this summer.
4680 represents a 46mm x 80mm lithium-ion cell, replacing the 2170 in all aspects. The specifications of the battery are as below:
|Cathode:||NCM 811 (81.6% nickel) - No cobalt|
|Anode:||Graphite (no silicon)|
|Estimated total capacity:||26.136 Ah|
|Estimated total energy:||96-99 Wh (assuming at 3.7-3.8 V)|
|Estimated energy density:||272-296 Wh/kg|
A critical characteristic of 4680 is that the battery is a tablet, meaning it doesn't have terminals (the positive and negative connectors carrying the electrical current), resulting in faster assembly lines.
4680 is a new chapter in Tesla's production capabilities, distancing the EV maker from outsourcing batteries. Tesla is also planning to build a refinery plant in Corpus Christi to start production before the end of 2023. Using sulphate-free refining, Tesla will consume less energy and produce low-cost products without releasing harmful materials.
|Custom machined 46mm x 80mm battery mockup next to a 18650 battery. Source: @BillSabo11/Twitter|
Tesla applied to expand the Gigafactory in Texas with a 60 GWh cathode production facility in February 2022, aiming to start production by the end of this year.
The innovation list of Tesla includes upgrading lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries with cheaper materials that can be recycled and improving the chemical components to make the energy density of 4680 higher.
Before the production in Gigafactory Texas began, Tesla received 4680 battery cell samples from Panasonic, its oldest battery partner. Panasonic said the volume production of Tesla 4680 will be delayed until mid or late 2024 for improvements by the time Tesla is expected to reach mass production. In June, Tesla said it has produced 10 million new 4680 battery cells, enough to power around 8,000 Cybertrucks.
On the Tesla Investor Day, CEO Elon Musk said the world needs 240 terawatt hours (TWh) of energy and $10 trillion of investment to sustain the battery-reliant energy economy. Musk wants Tesla to sell 20 million EVs by 2030, and according to Benchmark, this will require 1.2 million tonnes of lithium chemicals, surpassing the current capacity of the entire market.
Another plan of Tesla is to build a Gigafactory in Mexico, adding to the ones in China and Germany. Tesla has four facilities in the US. With the addition of battery plants, refineries, investments in recycling and Gigafactories, Tesla has the whole ambition to continue being the global EV leader.
The main image shows the Tesla Gigafactory in Austin, Texas. The second in-article image shows Tesla battery lines. Both images are courtesy of Tesla.