Billionaire offers glimpse of EV firm’s efforts to develop cheaper, more efficient battery cells at Tesla’s AGM
Elon Musk claims Tesla engineers have achieved a “major breakthrough” in battery technology, which he predicts could dramatically cut production costs, boost the range of electric vehicles and accelerate the shift towards renewable electricity.
Among a raft of announcement at the EV giant’s AGM in California on Wednesday, the billionaire said Tesla had developed a new means of manufacturing lithium ion batteries, which he said would enable the US firm to more rapidly scale up cell manufacturing in the coming years.
Current costs of batteries were not coming down quickly enough to address the climate crisis and spur fast enough transition to EVs, he warned.
But the “truly revolutionary” advancement – which the company has dubbed ‘tabless’ batteries – bolstered by more efficient raw material production, could halve Tesla’s battery production costs per KWh, enabling Musk to realise his “dream” of bringing an affordable mass market EV to market.
“For people that really know cells, this is a massive breakthrough,” Musk at the event, which took place at an outdoor drive-in event near Tesla’s headquarters in Palo Alto to allow for social distancing. “I think probably in about three years from now, we’re confident we can make a very compelling $25,000 electric vehicle that’s also fully autonomous.”
That would for the first time put the price tag for a Tesla electric car at a similar level to conventional fossil fuel cars in the US, said Musk, opening up the mass market for electrified cars, while the new batteries could also offer a 16 per cent increase in driving range compared current models.
“To accelerate the transition to EVs they must be affordable,” Musk said. “What this enables us to do is to realise a new trajectory in the reduction of battery costs.”
The entrepreneur also revealed that, while Tesla would continue to source conventional battery cells from companies such as Panasonic in the short to medium term, it planned to bring future cell-production in-house.
Musk said the firm was currently developing a pilot factory in Silicon Valley for the new tabless batteries, and that said it would take around another year to ramp up production to 10GWh.
Moreover, he said the firm was investing in a new battery recycling facility close to its ‘gigafactory’ in Nevada, in a bid to reduce the need for raw materials such as lithium, thereby cutting costs and environmental impacts, he explained.
“The battery stuff is truly revolutionary, and essential to Tesla’s goal,” explained Musk. “The fundamental good of tesla – if people look back in history and say ‘what good did Tesla do?’ – will be measured by how many years we accelerated sustainable energy. That’s the true metric of success. It matters if sustainable energy happens faster or slower, and that’s how I think we should assess Tesla.”
It comes off the back of a fairly successful year for Tesla, even despite the slowdown in global car markets as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The company recently experienced four consecutive quarters of profitability, has started car production at its new Shanghai factory in China, and is working to develop further gigsfactories in Berlin and Texas, Musk told shareholders.
He also said Tesla had to date delivered more than a million EVs worldwide, 5GWh of stationary batteries, and was now offering the lowest cost rooftop solar in the US via its solar energy arm at $1.49 per watt.
“We’re gonna work our damnedest to transition the world to sustainable energy as quickly as possible,” the CEO claimed.
Tesla’s barrage of battery announcements came as a joint study from the European Patent Office (EPO) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) this week found that patenting activity in electricity storage has grown far faster than patenting in general over the past decade, thanks in large part to the rapid shift towards battery electric vehicles.
Battery-related inventions soared to a record high of more than 7,000 in 2018, up from just over 1,000 at the turn of the millennium, according to the report.
Also this week, meanwhile, a separate report from analyst IHS Markit has forecasted the average cost of a lithium-ion battery cell could fall below $100 per KWh in 2023, before plummeting to as low as $73/KWh by the end of the decade.
The average cost of a lithium-ion battery has already fallen 82 per cent since 2012, the report emphasises.
“Progress in growing the share of low-carbon generation, such as solar and wind, in the global power mix also brings a particular set of challenges – namely intermittency. Improving cost-effectiveness of energy storage, particularly batteries, will be key to providing needed flexibility to balance this supply of electricity with demand,” said Sam Wilkinson, associate director for clean energy technology at IHS Markit.