Panasonic, Tesla’s Battery Partner, May Have Upcoming EV Battery Breakthroughs

2 months ago by EVANNEX 30

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Panasonic’s 18650 lithium-ion battery cell used in the Tesla Model S and X (Image: Daily Sabah)

BEYOND LITHIUM: TESLA’S PARTNER PANASONIC HINTS AT ELECTRIC VEHICLE BATTERY IMPROVEMENTS

Lithium-ion batteries represent a landmark technology that has made the current generation of electric vehicles possible. However, the day of their demise, while it still lies years in the future, is within view. Lithium-ion chemistries have a certain maximum energy density, dictated by those pesky laws of physics, and today’s batteries are not so far from that theoretical maximum. If drivers keep demanding longer ranges and faster charging times, then a better technology will have to be found.

*This article comes to us courtesy of Evannex (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Authored by Charles Morris.

Safety is also an issue. The spectacular explosions and fireballs that some documentary-makers revel in are not the norm (when was the last time your phone or computer caught fire?), but Li-ion batteries do have to be handled carefully, and necessary safety features add complexity and cost to battery packs. A new chemistry that is safer could also prove to be cheaper.

Researchers around the world are working on “beyond lithium” projects, and the past year has seen several significant breakthroughs. Of course, advances in the lab take years to make their way to the marketplace, but if and when one of these promising technologies can be commercialized, we could see game-changing improvements in the performance and cost of EVs.

One technology that’s been getting a tremendous amount of attention from researchers is the solid-state battery, which uses a solid electrolyte instead of the liquid electrolyte used today. Solid-state batteries could theoretically have double the energy density of current batteries, and last several times longer. They also use a non-flammable electrolyte – usually glass, polymer, or a combination – so they would eliminate the safety issues that plague Li-ion cells.

Tesla

Lithium-ion battery vs. solid state battery (Image: Toyota)

Lithium-air batteries likewise could offer far greater energy density – maybe as much as 10 times more – but they suffer from poor cycle life. In 2015, Cambridge scientists wowed the battery world with an announcement that they had demonstrated a highly efficient and long-lasting lithium-oxygen battery. Alas, researchers from several universities and national labs have since been unable to duplicate the original results.

Other promising battery chemistries use other elements in place of lithium. Sodium batteries powered Jules Verne’s futuristic submarine in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” More recently, in 2015, researchers created a prototype sodium-ion battery in the industry-standard 18650 cylindrical format.

According to a recent article in the Nikkei Asian Review, battery research has seen a big shift in recent years. At one time, nearly half of the presentations at the Battery Symposium in Japan were about fuel cells and Li-ion battery cathode materials. But since 2012, these topics have been supplanted by presentations about solid-state, lithium-air and non-lithium batteries.

Tesla

How a lithium-air battery works (Image: Money Inc)

Toyota has been focusing on solid-state and Li-air batteries. At the latest Battery Symposium, battery researcher Shinji Nakanishi discussed a scenario for transitioning from Li-ion batteries to solid-state and then Li-air batteries. “We want our electric cars to go 500 km” on a single charge, he said. “And for this, we want rechargeable batteries that can generate 800 to 1,000 watt-hours per liter.” That would be two to three times the energy density of today’s best Li-ion batteries.

Panasonic, Tesla’s battery supplier, is also taking a hard look at solid-state technology. “We think the existing technology can still extend the energy density of Li-ion batteries by 20% to 30%,” President Kazuhiro Tsuga told Nikkei. “But there is a trade-off between energy density and safety. So if you look for even more density, you have to think about additional safety technology as well. Solid-state batteries are one answer.”

Engineers have been pushing the limits of Li-ion technology for decades. Today’s best Li-ion cells can reach an energy density of about 300 watt hours per kilogram, which is getting close to the theoretical maximum. “Existing Li-ion batteries still have room to improve their energy density because you can raise the density by introducing a nickel-based cathode material, so you can expect the batteries will still be used in the next few years,” said battery expert Naoaki Yabuuchi of Tokyo Denki University. He expects lithium-ion technology to reach its limits around 2020.

Is Tesla working on any of these post-lithium chemistries? It would be strange if they were not. We know that the company is constantly evaluating new battery technologies. “Tesla has one of the largest cell characterization laboratories in the world – we have just about every cell you can imagine on test,” Tesla Product Planner Ted Merendino told me back in 2013. However, both Elon Musk and JB Straubel have said that so far, they’ve seen no viable replacement for lithium-ion, and believe me, they’ve been asked the question many times.

“We have yet to see even a single example… of a cell working at the laboratory level that is better than the one that we have, or the ones that we expect to come out with,” said Elon Musk in 2014. Now, the way I parse this statement, he isn’t saying that there’s no improved battery technology in the offing – on the contrary, he’s saying that Tesla will be the one to develop it.

When Model 3 was announced, some EV-watchers opined that, in order to deliver the new vehicle at the desired price point, Tesla would need to make a major battery breakthrough. In the event, Tesla has developed a new battery for Model 3, but it looks more like an incremental improvement than a paradigm shift. The new 2170 cell, which is now being produced at the Gigafactory, is slightly larger than the trusty 18650, and can store more energy. According to Elon Musk, it’s “the highest energy density cell in the world, and also the cheapest.” Advances in the way the cells are assembled into modules and packs are also expected to yield a significant reduction in battery costs.

Tesla

Tesla’s battery pack in the floorpan of the Model S (Image: First Reporter)

So, it appears that lithium will continue its reign for a few more years at least. However, the post-lithium Holy Grail is still out there, and as likely as not, the knights of Tesla’s round table will be the ones to bring it home. Battery superstar Jeff Dahn and his colleagues aren’t working for Tesla just to make speeches at conferences. It’s entirely possible that, at some super-secret facility in California or Nevada, test mules are being powered by solid-state or lithium-air batteries even as we speak.

*Editor’s Note: EVANNEX, which also sells aftermarket gear for Teslas, has kindly allowed us to share some of its content with our readers. Our thanks go out to EVANNEX, Check out the site here.

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30 responses to "Panasonic, Tesla’s Battery Partner, May Have Upcoming EV Battery Breakthroughs"

  1. andy says:

    Article got almost nothing to do with Tesla, but the headline still focuses on Tesla. About the article: I think Lithium air and sodium batteries are years or even decades away from practical applications. Solid state on the other hand could be already in premium EVs in 5 years or so. If rumors are true, VW’s first own cell production will be with solid state cells.

  2. R.S says:

    Oh great another battery “breakthrough”, why can’t…

    It involves Tesla? It’s so great that someone finally does something! Why don’t others invest in breakthrough battery technologies? They will so go down, luddites, they are all luddites and in bed with big oil and McDonalds!

    1. Mr. M says:

      Thanks for including all comments in one, it saves a lot oft time 😉 😀

  3. Brandon says:

    Great article!! These are the type of articles I like!! Minimal conjecture and mostly looking at where things really do seem to be heading.

    Informative and worth reading!!!

    Thanks Inside EVs!!

  4. SJC says:

    Solid state makes safer batteries but capacity, cycles and cost are among the other details.

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Yup. The solid state “plastic battery” seen on a recent episode of PBS’s “Nova” looks very promising. Very safe; you can puncture it or cut it up (and it keeps working!) without any danger of overheating or fire.

      But as you say, questions about cost, energy density, and longevity (number of cycles) need to be addressed. Any one of those properties could make the tech impractical for EV battery packs.

      And that plastic battery still uses lithium ions. It’s just that they’re contained in a polymer which allows them to migrate from the positive electrode to the negative; the ions are not in a liquid solution as with current li-ion batteries.

      Lithium ion polymer batteries already exist; I guess this plastic battery would be a “solid state lithium ion polymer battery”.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/11/technology/designing-a-safer-battery-for-smartphones-that-wont-catch-fire.html

  5. Bone says:

    800 to 1000 Wh/l is not two to three times todays best li-ion. We already have li-ion with over 700 Wh/l density.

    1. Pajda says:

      Well said. The article is just a bunch of wet dreams. There is still no evidence about real world usable samples of Li-Air or solid-state batteries.

    2. Ambulator says:

      Yeah, I never trust researcher when the try to characterize current batteries. They always understate their capabilities.

  6. Bob Nan says:

    Happy Earth Day 2017 to everyone.

    The first Lithium batteries proved its worth in Laptops, Cameras, Cellphones and then taking a dip in Hybrid vehicles before charging into Electric and Plugin vehicles.

    So the Solid State battery’s first application may be Laptops which are also power hungry and at the same time operated at a few feet from our face for the saftey, then the Hybrids and finally the Plugged in vehicles. So they are at least 5 years away and during this time, the charging time of Lithium Ion will go down from the current 30 minutes to 15 minutes which will take just a snack time for charging. The 300 mile range is more than enough for all the trips and its just the charging time that the battery makers have to work with.

    Anyway its good to work on next generation Solid State battery which may be used in heavy vehicles which has 6 or more wheels.

  7. Bob Nan says:

    Joe

    Good to know this, so the Solid State battery is also Lithium battery, but just the electrolyte is solid. But sometimes the writers write in a way that’s confusing.

  8. Bob Nan says:

    Toyota can talk at length about the Nickel battery since they have the credit of selling 10 million Hybrid vehicles using that battery.

    But they should not talk about Lithium battery since they have put a fierce resistance against the Lithium battery and the electrification of vehicles.

    Even now, they are continuing to insist that Fuel Cell vehicles are the future.

    Let’s see how their FEV truck goes against Tesla’s BEV truck.

    1. Serial anti tesla troll thomas says:

      Yes because there will not be enough lithium on the world to power all vehicles once they are all electric

      1. Dwayne says:

        This is a blatantly false statement. We could have several orders of magnitude more automobiles in the world and there would still be plenty of lithium. Lithium is very abundant on earth!

        1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

          He has clearly labeled himself “Serial anti tesla troll thomas”. Perhaps he intends readers to assume everything he says is completely wrong? In fact, perhaps his intent is an educational one, exposing the FUD that serial anti-Tesla trolls are posting on other forums.

          Hope that’s not giving him too much credit. But I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, unless and until he demonstrates he doesn’t deserve it.

      2. So, Thomas, as you present yourself as knowledgeable on this subject, please reference your analysis article you have published, that has been peer reviewed.

        Or, at least have the temerity to share your info on how many Ounces, Pounds, or Kg of raw Lithium are used in Each Tesla 100 kWh Battery, and the amount of Total Global Lithium Potental Supply, in Kg, so we can, at the very least, verify your numbers!

        1. Ben says:

          According to studies from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the University of Berkeley there it only lasts for 250million 100kwh batteries (thats a fifth of all cars on earth). Thats not very much, there also is need for stationary storage, notebook batteries, etc… Most of the Lithium is dissolved in seawater, of course harvesting this lithium would be way to expensive.

          (1000 of the worlds biggest pumps (size of a building each) would need 70000 years running 24/7 to filter the volume of all the water on earth once). way too expensive, and again the amount of cars would be limited to about the amount of cars on the streets today.

          Lithium for some time and another type afterwards, maybe sodium.

          1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

            What a load of FUD B.S.

            Any time you read someone trying to tell you that there will be a shortage of lithium limiting li-ion battery production, they’re trying to sell you something.

            It’s simply not true. Lithium is one of the most abundant elements in the Earth’s crust. It’s common and widely available. And yes, it can be refined from seawater, if the price of lithium goes up sufficiently to make that moderately more expensive process profitable. The Japanese have already developed the seawater refining process.

            Run out of lithium? You might as well worry that we’ll run out of iron ore with which to make the steel in car bodies!

          2. Bone says:

            There is about 200 billion tonnes of lithium in seawater.

            Assuming 20 kg of lithium per car, that would be 10 trillion cars.

            Assuming 100 million cars per year, that would be enough lithium for 100,000 years of car production.

            Today extracting lithium from seawater is more expensive than extracting from brine, but it’s a technology in it’s infancy.

  9. PK says:

    “when was the last time your phone or computer caught fire?”

    Um, Samsung Note 7 ?

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Even worse, those cheaply made (and misnamed) “hoverboards”.

  10. Rich says:

    IMO, the critical factor at this point is price per kWh. Energy density is always interesting to keep an eye on, but price per kWh seems to be the limiting factor for massive adoption by automakers. Automakers require profits on BEVs to match or beat profits on ICE.

    To this end, one of the most interesting recent battery development news articles came from the Director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR). He wrote a Director’s Message at the end of 2016. It was a reflection of what the JCESR had achieved in the first 4 years of it’s 5 year program. It also gave insight into what they expected to delivery by the end of their 5 year program, ending this year. http://www.jcesr.org/directors-message-2016/

    They believe they have achieved viable transportation battery tech at a pack level cost of $100/kWh

    The JCESR is one of the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Energy Innovation Hubs. The JCESR is tasked to “create game-changing, next-generation battery technologies that will transform transportation and the electricity grid the way lithium-ion batteries transformed personal electronics.”

    Hopefully, all 3 major battery makers (Panasonic/Tesla, LG Chem, Samsung SDI) are progressing at the same pace or faster in their battery development programs. Even if they don’t, they should be able to license the tech from JCESR.

    We live in exciting times.

    1. That would be nice! A replacement Tesla 100 kWh pack for $10,000 plus maybe $2,500 for Tesla profit!

      It could drop the cost price of the Bolt EV battery sufficient to cut the retail price down below $30,000!

      “Bolt EV: $29,995!” Would be a great Advertisement! Now, can they get there before the tax credits run out?

      1. Rich says:

        Reasonably priced smaller platform BEVs with 250+ miles AER should become common place. Hopefully at a pack cost of $100/kWh, this will spur automakers to pvoide 60 miles AER on SUV/truck PHEVs.
        It’s going to be fun to watch the market transition.

    2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Current EV prices don’t appear to reflect a pack-level price (manufacturer’s cost) of $100/kWh. If they were that cheap, then both the Chevy Bolt EV and the Tesla Model 3 should have substantially lower retail prices. In fact, we know that LG Chem is charging GM $145/kWh just for the cells, and of course the pack-level price will be higher, probably at least 25% higher which would be $181/kWh.

      Either Panasonic and LG Chem are lagging significantly behind JCESR’s tech, or more likely that $100/kWh price is an overly optimistic estimate from a group of researchers with little or no experience in high-volume manufacturing of battery cells.

  11. AlphaEdge says:

    In the title: “May Have Upcoming EV Battery Breakthroughs.

    I may have one also!

    Whole article stating that they are working on it. Well of course.

    Many companies are working on solid state batteries.

    Nothing of interest in the whole article that Panasonic is even close to achieving this.

  12. Why Not? says:

    There may not be any new revolutionary insights in this article, but it is still valuable as it disproves the argument of many Tesla bears that the Gigafactory will be outdated in just a few years.

    Somehow the bears (especially Seeking Alpha) seem to assume that Tesla is locking itself into the current technology without the ability to upgrade and transition to new technologies when they come along.

    This article shows that Tesla, with its partner Panasonic, is on the cutting edge of battery research and will no doubt implement new chemistries and technologies into their battery production in the future.

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      “it disproves the argument of many Tesla bears that the Gigafactory will be outdated in just a few years.”

      It disproves no such thing. We don’t know what tech will pop up tomorrow that would instantly render all current batteries obsolete. It’s unlikely to happen, but we can’t possibly know that it won’t.

      I view Tesla’s Gigafactory like Ford’s River Rouge industrial complex. Both were examples of extreme vertical integration necessary to move a new type of vehicle — the Ford Model T and the Tesla Model 3 — into high volume production; much higher than had been previously accomplished with that type of vehicle.

      Eventually, Ford abandoned most of its River Rouge complex, as third-party suppliers sprang up which were capable of supplying parts and sub-assemblies to Ford at a cheaper cost. But that doesn’t at all mean the River Rouge complex wasn’t necessary when Ford built it. Ford was creating a new industry.

      Tesla is in much the same position. Sure, Tesla could sit around and wait for the global production of li-ion batteries to creep up to the point that there would be enough to supply as many Model 3’s as Tesla wants to build. But Tesla doesn’t want to wait. Just like Ford, it wants to grab as much of a new market as is possible, before someone else moves to capture it first!

      Perhaps Tesla’s Gigafactory 1 will eventually be mostly abandoned; perhaps some years from now it will only assemble battery packs and make EV drivetrains. Perhaps Tesla will abandon manufacture of battery cells.

      But even if that happens, it doesn’t mean Gigafactory 1 is a “bad bet” for Tesla, any more than Ford building the River Rouge complex was a waste of Ford’s money. Ford at one time had captured 90% of the automobile market. I’d say Ford’s bet paid off handsomely! We’ll have to wait and see if Tesla is equally successful.

      https://www.thehenryford.org/visit/ford-rouge-factory-tour/history-and-timeline/fords-rouge/

      1. Bradley Cross says:

        Excellent comment

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