Does Tesla’s Recent Hiring Mean Its Thinking On Battery Tech Is Changing?

MAY 27 2016 BY JAY COLE 48

In the past Tesla CEO Elon Musk has put the need for battery breakthroughs in the ‘not really necessary’ category, saying that the company is content with the more slight, year-over-year improvements being made with the batteries currently being manufactured by Panasonic, and also soon to be produced at Tesla’s gigafactory.

However, last year Tesla reached out to Jeff Dahn, a leading battery researcher (and industry superstar), to have him come on board to work with the company and expand its battery horizons.  That contract secured, a 5 year exclusive deal, begins on June 8th, 2016.

IDS Concept/Next Generation NMC LEAF battery - putting 60 kWh in almost the same space as the original 24 kWh edition

IDS Concept/Next Generation LEAF-based NMC battery: putting 60 kWh in almost the same space as the original 24 kWh/2011 edition for less money

As reported by Quartz on Mr. Dahn’s background:

“Dahn is known for publicly calling out the shortcomings of his colleagues’s inventions, all in the name of honest science, he says, and himself is a pioneer of one of the world’s leading energy chemistries, known by the acronym NMC. Musk, meanwhile, has publicly ridiculed NMC while championing a rival chemistry called NCA.”

Dahn’s new directive with Tesla?

“Dahn says he is arriving with marching orders to do “whatever it takes” to improve the company’s battery performance.”

The hiring of the battery researcher from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, and away from long term partner 3M (before this hiring), may signal that Tesla (and its CEO Musk) are now willing to have a more open mind to new breakthroughs and alternative advances in battery technology over just going with an “off the shelf” solutions  – such as installing thousands of Panasonic 18650 cells into the Model S/X, or slightly larger cylindricals into the upcoming Model 3.

Nissan's new high density module stack

Nissan’s new high density module stack – Perhaps 288 large format/NMC chemistry cells inside a 60 kWh pack is a better option than housing 6,216 Panasonic 18650s inside a Model S 60 after all?

It should be noted that NMC battery chemistry (in larger, automotive format) is about to be brought to the center stage in a few months by Nissan with its second generation LEAF debut, and also with the arrival of Chevrolet Bolt EV to an extent.

Dahn states that Tesla’s goal is the same as the rest of the industry – to achieve long lasting, high energy density cells at a low cost.

“Those are the goals, and that’s how we’re going to do it,” Dahn said to Quartz, “We’re open to anything that makes sense.”

Or it might just mean that Musk is hedging his bets against Tesla’s competitors; just in case one of the latest (and mostly theoretical) ‘breakthroughs‘ we hear about almost daily becomes commercially viable –  Mr. Dahn would be just the man to point out that sort of reality…or be able to achieve one himself.

Quartz, hat tip to George K, Josh B!


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48 Comments on "Does Tesla’s Recent Hiring Mean Its Thinking On Battery Tech Is Changing?"

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This is not the first time, if i remember there was another high profile hiring of battery scientist last year too, by tesla.

You are most likely thinking about the very same guy. Because Tesla “hiring” Jeff Dahn was announced already a year ago. It just doesn’t come into effect until his current research funding from 3M ends this summer. Actually he isn’t hired in the traditional way as a Tesla employee, but instead Tesla as a research cooperation is funding his Dahn battery research group at Dalhousie University in a 5-year contract, once the groups funding contract with 3M expires this summer. Quote: “The arrangement with Tesla will be exclusive and the substantial 5-year funding package will allow the lab to operate at approximately the same scale as at present.” Source: On June 16, 2015, Dalhousie University and Tesla Motors announced that the Dahn group will switch industrial partners from 3M Canada to Tesla in June of 2016. The arrangement with Tesla will be exclusive and the substantial 5-year funding package will allow the lab to operate at approximately the same scale as at present. The focus of the partnership will be to help create Li-ion cells with longer lifetime (in decades), lower cost and higher energy density destined for use in Tesla products. The Dahn group has had an excellent… Read more »

Subsidizing Dahn’s University research for exclusive commercial rights to any insights/breakthroughs is a no brainer.

Very low cost and huge possible gains.

Potential breakthroughs are much more valuable to Tesla than 3M so Tesla is willing to pay more. Does not mean a fundamental shift in Elon’s thinking.

BTW Also means graduating students have much closer relationship with Tesla. When original announcement was made Dahn said students were bouncing off the walls with excitement to work on Tesla projects or in conjunction with Tesla.

Interesting that Nissan can put a 60 kWh battery into a 24 kWh battery sized pack for less money !

Not really a surprise.

Tesla is market leader both in term of price and kWh/kg.

Nissan is catching up to the game finally. Or rather making the divide something less than 100%!

Yeah, kind of. But it’s not like Nissan is simply doing what Tesla did. They are coming to similar density and price from a totally different angle. Which makes it more interesting, since it isn’t clear which approach is ultimately better, or what one could learn from the other.

Maybe it time to wake up & smell the coffee.No man is an island,there’s other smart people out there too…lol

There are, but they don’t invest and implement like Musk.

Clearly, I don’t see a space for Apple here, Tesla is already in Apple’s niche.

Not an Apple fan myself, but Apple has enough brand loyalty to draw a lot of market share to them. Plus they’ll create special features that work only between Apple cars and Apple devices and people who appreciate that sort of thing will jump all over it. Hey, maybe they’ll let you run the car off the iPhone battery! 😉

Yes, & More Than double the Range! ..A model S Could get a 600 mile Range with these Batteries Packed in the same space….

Putting more power in the Nissan batteries is no great achievement, as they should have done it the first time… but remember, no ICE car maker has yet REALLY entered the EV competition.

The Nissan 60Kwh pack is physically larger than the 24kwh pack in the leaf. Yes it has higher energy density too. Where did you get pricing information on this new pack?

A caption on a picture above. I am quite skeptical of that claim.

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Perhaps they CLAIM they can do that but if they really could do it then they should be cranking that out of their factories right now.

Where did Quartz come up the comment on NMC batteries? I don’t recall Elon ever ridiculing them. Tesla has chosen NCA for cars, but they use NMC in home and commercial battery storage.

I’m pretty sure he never did; maybe they were confusing it with Lead-Acid or the like?
There’s no reason to. It’s a very technical issue, and noone in the field has any ideological issues with any of the Li-based chemistries AFAIK — all a matter of performance & price.

Elon Musk did ridicule the first generation 24 kWh Leaf’s batteries. But those are LMO, not NMC. First generation NMC is now used in the 30 kWh batteries. LMO is the worst chemistry for electric car’s batteries. NCA has great energy density but requires a lot of safety measures to keep it from bursting into flames. Tesla Motors made a great job protecting the cells, it’s not easy. Second generation NMC cells achieve the good energy density of NCA cells while providing safety, low cost and reliability. Second generation NMC is the best chemistry we have at the moment for EVs. There has been a lot of improvements in NMC cells by adding silicon to the anode. We can see this in Samsung SDI cells used in BMW i3. that have been upgraded from 60 Ah to 94 Ah for the same size. Even 120 Ah cells are already made that will replace the new 94 Ah cells. Samsung SDI have been showing them for a while in Auto Shows. Yet the best second generation NMC cell is made by a Nissan’s partner, Amprius has now achieved 800-1000 Wh/L. Insideevs should make an article about Amprius, they are the… Read more »

amprius ~amp ~prius Oxymoron?

Does instantaneous discharge potential go up, mostly in proportion with kwh for these new chemistries? IOW, will we see a 4-5C pull, or are heat issues (with less space for heat dissipation) going to be a bigger problem?

Put a I and it become iAMprius.

Does any chemistry, NMC, NCA, lithium-fluorine or lithium oxygen would change the quantity of lithium per kWh of batteries?
Just curious?

Anyone who achieves 1000Wh/L first is going to own the smartphone battery market, where they can charge >$1000/kWh for it.

Give me a 20Wh battery (i.e. 5500 mAh) for my phone that measures, say, 6*80*50mm and I’ll pay $30+ for it.

Should that be the “other way around” The car has to carry those heavy Batteries around….The House., Weight & space saving is not an issue..

I had the same thought. Given Tesla is using NMC in their home battery, why would they ridicule it? Maybe the author was thinking of LMO (the predecessor to NMC), which is objectively significantly worse than NMC or NCA so I can see why Elon might have done so at some point.

One never know. Maybe one day we will have “perpetum mobile” batteries.

Stenbekk,, Great article ..thx for the link…

If “Perpetum mobile” Should happen the rich will lose money & that cannot happen it’s a No No!..If only the common people would “Band Together” Like the Vikings Did & straighten out this “Abuse of Power” For the Common Good!

Musk would be foolish not to, and he is not foolish

Today NCM is better for long life, NCA better for high energy density. After 10 years NCA problems with Al coating while NCM while will hold some years longer. So I prefer a Bolt or Leaf 2 over Model 3.

I think that the main problem with price and technology is in the idea that a relatively succesfull car manufacturer can be also a succesfull manufacturer of the battery cells. This can be described on AESC joint venture (Nissan and NEC). This company grew up on a greenfield in 2007 and the only customer should be Nissan. So it is a relatively small company and this must leads to the high production price of the cells, problems with quality in the first series and also their cells never was the state of the art technology. For example Nissan 30kWh battery pouch cells are approaching 400Wh/l but the new LG pouch cells used in GM Bolt are supposed to be 550Wh/l.

So from the time perspective this step seems to me as bad decision. (The same decision made also some EU manufacturers with the same result). So lesson learned is that if you want the best available cells with a good price you really should make agreement with some of the leading cell manufacturer.

Agree that getting into the cell production business would be a bad idea for Tesla (or any manufacturer), but this contract is more basic research than cell procurement. The Dahn group would work with the cell producer.

Lots of areas for improvement. Plus 3M has done well with its Dahn patent.

Fundamentally, for closed systems, the Lithium Fluorine couple holds the most potential for high energy content but it is of course very hard to make a battery that doesn’t explode when those two are placed next to each other. Therefore less ambitious chemistry have up to now yielded better energy content. Nevertheless Lithium Fluorine remains interesting as well as the next best, Lithium Sulfur. This is especially the case with new nanoscale encapsulation possibilities to protect from a too harsh direct contact between the two. To get a perspective instead of 200 Wh/Kg, Lithium Fluorine theoretically means more than 10000 Wh/Kg. That is a factor 50 better which of course can never be achieved completely but even a factor 10 would revolutionary. It would sure allow better ev cars but also airplanes and even helicopters and other VTOL aircraft, if not battery powered electrofans as booster strap on as a start for the hybridization of a rocket’s first stage. If C rates can be high, the total energy for a 60 second run is not that high.

You left out lithium oxygen (usually called lithium air) which is probably best. Lithium fluorine is more powerful, but it takes two fluorine atoms for a complete reaction where one oxygen atom will do. Not only that, but there is free oxygen in the air, whereas fluorine is poisonous.

I’d be happy if they can just get lithium sulfur to work well enough for cars.

Wow! Lithium Flourine batteries! Sounds like the makings of a Things I Won’t Work With article:

Well, slightly higher capacity would be hydrogen fluoride (HF), but you can also add that into another thing that you probably don’t want to work on.

Nice link, very interesting stuff. I like the FOOF. I didn’t know that one. It confirms that dangerous things are always containing some innovative possibilities. As long as you know what you are dealing with and act accordingly. After all who the hell would think about mixing liquid Oxygen and liquid methane and sit in a capsule right above it. Perhaps a FOOF Methane engine would give even more bang. No need for ignition is certainly a plus.

Most EV manufactures use a combination of LMO and NMC:

[quote]Most Li-manganese batteries blend with lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) to improve the specific energy and prolong the life span. This combination brings out the best in each system, and the LMO (NMC) is chosen for most electric vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt and BMW i3. The LMO part of the battery, which can be about 30 percent, provides high current boost on acceleration; the NMC part gives the long driving range.[/quote]

It’s about time Tesla to look into improving the battery. When Tesla P90DL (400kW/90kWh=4.44C) lags even SparkEV (105kW/18.5kWh=5.71C), it’s long overdue. Tesla had to upgrade the battery from 85 kWh to get Ludicrous, suggesting the limitation is the battery, not some arbitrarily set limit.

Speaking of, is SparkEV the highest discharge / charge C rating of any production EV? I just did the math, and closest is i3 (125kW/22kWh=5.68C). And of course, SparkEV is quickest charging EV in the world in terms of %, which is C rating.

SparkEV, Getting Ludicrous to work required the smart fuse. It was not a battery chemistry limitation. Even P85D cars were/are upgradeable to Ludicrous.

I read Tesla CTO’s open letter after criticism that power to wheels is not simple sum of front + rear that they’re battery constrained even for P85D. Even if P85D was capable of Ludicrous (which it isn’t based on CTO’s comment), discharge C still lags far behind SparkEV.

Assuming the Gigafactory is tooling up to produce 18650 or 20700 cells, switching chemistries and/or formats would be a major change.

The fruit from this effort is years away, much like every mythical battery improvement.

The pouch and prismatic cells are better suited for large scale production. Nobody pursues Tesla’s battery configuration because it is not efficient as production rate goes up. Also, if you compare the performance improvement of Tesla and LG/Samsung in the past few years it is clear that Tesla lags behind. LG/Samsung have increased density by 50% while Tesla has managed to go from 80 to 90 and perhaps 100 kWh in the same time frame.

You have the opposite actually. It is actually LG/Samsung playing catch-up. When the Model S came out in 2012 it was already using 240Wh/kg cells.

LG will break the 200Wh/kg barrier with the Bolt this year. Samsung won’t break 250Wh/kg until 2019 (latest generation is only 130Wh/kg).

That’s a pretty silly statement. The Leaf has only gone from 24 kwh to 30 kwh for production now. Most other EVs have not been touched in the past five years.

Don’t confuse Tesla’s incremental improvements through sales in the same manner as Tesla’s actual capabilities (obviously, the Model 3 wouldn’t be close to viable if it wasn’t a gigantic leap over the original S 60). Just like every other model, Leafs are undergoing a big jump next generation, and the Spark–>Bolt jump is coming soon as well.

None of these contradicts what I said. I didn’t mention leaf at all. I was talking about LG and Samsung. I said Tesla batteries are not suitable for large scale production. And I said the rate of improvement in pouch/prismatic cells has been faster than cylindrical.

The point is your argument is specious without looking at the relative densities of the prismatics and cylindrical you are comparing.

And it is ignoring how battery improvements do not come linearly every year but rather has jumps between generations and lots of nothing in between.

FWIW, the NMC being used by Chevy isn’t the NMC this guy created. I’m not sure on Nissan. In fact, I suspect he is jumping ship from 3M due to 3M’s current patent issues surrounding their NMC technology and its use in the US.

My money is on Tesla switching to NMC prismatic cells in the near future.

Why do people assume NMC = prismatic (the article does the same, so I’m not calling you out specifically)? Tesla is currently using NMC cylindrical cells in their home battery solution, so there is no indication they will switch to prismatic.