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New Tesla batteries: a game changer

The “inside” of the new 4680 Panasonic/Tesla batteries promising a leap in cost reduction and increased capacity. Image credit: Tesla (Tesla Battery Day 2020)

A crucial component in electric vehicles -EV- and most likely the most important one is the battery. Actually, it is not “a battery”, rather a battery stack.

A Tesla Model 3 uses batteries that are 21 mm wide and 70 tall (not surprisingly they are called 2170 type). These batteries are organised in bricks, each containing 46 batteries, clustered in banks, each containing 96 bricks, for a total of 4,416 batteries in a Model 3 delivering a total of 74KWh.

At the “Battery Day” last year Elon Musk (watch the clip) announced a cooperation with Panasonic that aimed at developing a new type of battery (still a lithium-ion battery) with an innovative architecture that get rid of the “tabs” (one for the positive and one for the negative end) resulting in what they called a “tabless architecture” (see the image in the photo).

The new batteries, called 4680 (yes you gessed right: their size is 46mm wide and 80mm tall!), should power the new Tesla starting in 2022. Their bigger size means only 960 of them can fit in the same space currently occupied by the 4,416 batteries in the M0del 3, but their increased efficiency can deliver 130KWh, almost doubling (75% increase) the capacity (and therefore the mileage per charge).

Elon Musk foresaw by end of 2021 a production capacity of 10GWh rising by end of 2023 to 100GWh and 3,000GWh by 2030!

The end of 2021 is fast approaching, so where are we?

Well the information available is scarce. In the 2Q videoconf with analysts Musk indicated that work is progressing well, although they are facing issue with large scale production. This is not unexpected, turning well working prototypes into an industrial product that can be manufactured efficiently (volume and cost) is challenging and takes time. However, the good news is that the battery itself (its new architecture) delivers as promised.

By having fewer batteries the cost decreases sharply: there has to be a microprocessor for each “brick” today and the bricks now will be less (the exact number will depend on the marketing choice to manufacture a vehicle with the same range of today’s car or with an extended range). Additionally, the 960 batteries that would fit in today’s battery space could be managed by a single controller.

Having fewer batteries will also decrease the total weight of the vehicle (batteries account for 25% of the total weight of the vehicle).

The new batteries, once industrially manufactured,  will be a game changer for EV, decreasing cost and increasing their mileage. Now it seems the question is no longer “if” but “when”. Looking forward to it.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.