Tesla’s J.B Straubel Discusses Battery Manufacturing, Cutting Cost & More

2 years ago by Steven Loveday 28


J.B. Straubel, CTO at Tesla Motor Company, gave a keynote speech in Toronto this week at the Discovery 16 Conference. The conference is one of Canada’s most substantial annual technology meetings. At the event, Straubel focused on battery manufacturing at the Gigafactory, and how Tesla is cutting costs.

tesla-gigafactory-1

Tesla Gigafactory

As previously reported, Tesla is attempting to massively increase production to prepare for the upcoming Model 3 and its record demand. In order for the Fremont factory to be able to live up to such production, batteries must be the number one priority. The 500,000 units per year that Tesla is promising to build by 2018 will require double the lithium ion batteries used worldwide today.

Straubel explained that Tesla is making this happen by initiating new types of battery manufacturing methods that utilize state of the art machines that he aided in inventing. The final goal, aside from increased production, is to significantly reduce unit costs. Producing all batteries from start to finish, inside the singular Gigafactory, is the company’s answer. The fact that the facility will be almost fully powered by roof solar panels and other renewable on site energy, is key to the process.

Questions have been raised about exactly what Tesla’s goal is for the final cost after the reductions. Although Straubel previously mentioned a 30% drop, no official figure has been publicized. Elon Musk said:

“We’re trying not to comment on individual component costs. That’s fairly proprietary. It’s kind of like giving away our playbook. But I think it’s pretty obvious that we will exceed anyone else in the world in scale economies with the Gigafactory, and we’re very confident in Panasonic’s ability to execute on that front. So I just don’t know anyone who in terms of intrinsic cost is going to be close to what the Gigafactory can produce on a cost per kilowatt hour basis.”

On an interesting side note, Straubel mentioned that he has tried to convince Musk to build an electric airplane. This would be another prime mission for Tesla to further reduce emissions. Straubel said:

“The biggest challenge for electric aviation is that it needs much higher energy density to achieve longer ranges and longer endurance.”

Source: Teslarati

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28 responses to "Tesla’s J.B Straubel Discusses Battery Manufacturing, Cutting Cost & More"

  1. Ambulator says:

    That’s a horrible video. Your summary was much better.

    It will take a while for electric airplanes to fly far enough to be commercially feasible, so to whoever stopped that idea: Thank you!

    1. Anon says:

      Depending on the evolution and refinement of batteries over time, all-electric flight would be more reasonable as energy density gets closer to that of aviation kerosene. Probably 2030-2040 timeframe.

      1. jerryd says:

        Again Tesla says their battery cost is lower than all others gives them a nice cost advantage.
        And they are the only company that ordered materials, production capacity to make them and now all the others are constrained and will have to pay higher prices because they wouldn’t preorder.
        On E planes they already have a 400mile range and growing.
        And there are batteries that can go 2k miles easily, zinc/air and others coming soon.

    2. While I went looking today for a copy of the Motor Trend Mag with the 3 Tesla’s on the ?Cover? – it was either a May issue – already off the stands, as I discovered a totally different June issue was out, but – I did buy a copy of May 2016 Plane & Pilot, with an article in it about new Planes on the Horizon!In that article they mention the Pipistrel – Panthera, so I did a quick look for that online – and must share a clip of the news article describing the power plant:

      – “A major step towards electric powered air travel was achieved on 9th February 2016 with the power-up of the world’s most powerful hybrid electric power train for aviation in a project led by Pipistrel. Hybrid-electric power trains are a new breed of aviation propulsion, which extend the range of all-electric aircraft while being environmentally friendly and quiet. The 200 kW propulsor developed during the project HYPSTAIR delivers the power equivalent to a typical general aviation piston engine and can run in three modalities: electric-only mode using batteries, generator-only mode or hybrid mode combining both power sources.”

      Found Here: http://www.panthera-aircraft.com/news#most-powerful-hybrid-electric-powertrain-powers-up

      Also – I had a few hundred flight hours in personal light aircraft – Cessna’s, Mooney’s, and Pipers, as well as an Aeronca, and a Fleet Canuck, and a ride in the Prototype Vans Aircraft RV-4, before I flew my first commercial flight! So to say that Electric Flight is impractical unless it can power an Airliner with loads of people, for hours of high subsonic speeds, is a bit presumptuous!

      Already – we can fly a two seat aircraft over the Alps, on solar Power – http://www.solar-flight.com/projects/sunseeker-duo/ and Electric Aircraft have been Flown Across the English channel – “About 12 hours before Airbus’ Channel flight, French pilot Hugues Duval took his two-engine, one-seat Cricri plane from Calais to Dover and back.” – http://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/first-electric-planes-fly-over-english-channel-1.2462858

      Also – http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/airbus-electric-plane-and-rival-fly-across-english-channel-1.3147005 – “Several companies in different countries are developing electric planes, in hopes of offering a fuel-free flight alternative for the future — and the battle to perform world “firsts” in electric planes is heating up as the technology becomes more durable.” – And – as to Quote you “so to whoever stopped that idea: Thank you!” It seems like you mis-spoke on that one – as No One has stopped the idea!!

      Plus, a year ago – Things got kicked up a few notches higher on the Motor side – http://www.flyingmag.com/aircraft/siemens-unveils-260-kw-electric-aircraft-motor – where they state: “Weighing in at a little over 100 pounds, the new motor delivers a continuous output of 260 kilowatts (the gasoline-piston engine equivalent of about 350 hp), compared with just 60 kw for an electric motor tested in flight by Siemens, Airbus and Diamond Aircraft last year.” And – No gear Reduction is required, just Propeller Hub and go! They also say – “Thanks to its much improved power-to-weight ratio, bigger airplanes with maximum takeoff weights of up to 4,000 pounds will be able to use electric drives for the first time, the Siemens researchers say.” More importantly – in just one year – “New simulation techniques and lightweight construction, the company said, enabled the drive system to achieve a unique weight-to-performance ratio of 5 kilowatts per kilogram. Comparable motors used in industrial applications deliver less than 1 kw per kg, while drive systems used in electric cars offer about 2 kw per kg.”

      So Motors for Electric Flight – are pretty much there now, just to get the Battery Energy Densities up to a 400 Wh/Kg or Better!

      Most Small aircraft have run times on fuel of between 2,5 hours and up to about 5.5 Hours, so building enough energy to run from 3.5 – 4.5 hours would be quite sufficient to have a serious impact in the field, and once they can exceed 5.5 hours run time per charge – Fuel for Light Aircraft will start to become a thing for old Aircraft only, as new ones will only need an airport based charging network, like the supercharger network!

      The Siemens new 260 kW Motor, will be a good fit for future designs like the 6 Seat Transporter: http://www.solar-flight.com/projects/solar-6-seat-transporter/

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Sure, there are applications for electric propulsion in airplanes that fly at relatively low speeds, especially for short-range flights. I don’t at all mean to denigrate the importance of “General Aviation”; light planes have more takeoffs and landings per day than do jetliners. And I’m glad to see that electric propulsion is moving out of the limited category of low power auxiliary motors in sailplanes, and into more mainstream small propeller-driven aircraft. So thanks for that update!

        But electric propulsion in small light planes is not going to have much impact on the amount of aviation fuel consumed by the airline industry in general, which is overwhelmingly dominated by large jet aircraft. And reducing fossil fuel us is, I think, the most important reason to advocate electric propulsion in planes.

  2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    JB quite correctly said, in the video, that electric airplanes need much higher energy density in batteries than what is currently available. So I find it very strange that he was trying to get Tesla to develop one.

    With the current state of the art, only a sailplane engineered for slow flight and low energy use is practical for electric propulsion. I’ve read that some of these have up to 90 minutes of flight, or perhaps up to two hours.

    Commercial electric planes, even short-range ones, will have to wait for much higher energy density batteries. I question that we’ll ever have propeller-driven long-range commercial flights, because prop-driven planes can’t approach the Mach ~0.9 speed of jet-powered commercial flights. I think prop-driven commercial flights will always be limited to short-range “puddle jumpers”.

    1. G2 says:

      Pure electrics need next generation, revolutionary vice evolutionary, breakthroughs to be direct replacements for civil transport as we know it.

      However, hybrid turbo electrics, are a viable concept as seen here:

    2. Terawatt says:

      Correct, for pure electric. But here’s a case where chargeable hybrid may make sense. Siemens already has electric motors for tiny planes and believe they can make it work for regional airliners as well.

      http://www.gizmag.com/siemens-world-record-electric-motor-aircraft/37048/

      The motors have a power to weight ratio twice as high as Tesla’s and perhaps fifteen times any ICE approach. As I understand it, you use gas turbines to power them during takeoff and climbing, then cruise on battery power.

      Presumably you’ll need some very fast charging to do it as a plug-in, to allow for short turnaround time (very important to the overall economics of any aircraft).

      1. Bul_gar says:

        Siemens motor – 5kw/kg
        Tesla motor – 7kw/kg.
        Oooops Tesla motor has better power to weight ratio & it’s may be cheaper.
        I was looking from long time for some better electric motor but I couldn’t find so light motor with that power & high torque which can accelerate car to 150mph at constant gear.

        1. jerryd says:

          That really isn’t true as Teslas is peak power cars need and planes, boats use continuous power.
          To get that Teslas would need to be derated by 50%to use in planes.

          1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

            Electric motors are usually given continuous power ratings, not peak power ratings like gasoline engines are. Are you sure Tesla is giving peak power ratings for their motors?

      2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Terawatt said:

        “As I understand it, you use gas turbines to power them during takeoff and climbing, then cruise on battery power.”

        Yes, I’ve read of proposals for “hybrid aircraft” using that approach. The claim for the SUGAR Volt concept is to reduce fuel use by as much as 66-75%.

        But if you look at the details, you’ll see those planes fly slower. No surprise, since they cruise on prop power instead of jets. The SUGAR Volt would cruise at Mach 0.6 or at best 0.7. Can that really compete with jet airliners flying at about Mach 0.9? On short range flights, yes. On long range flights, no.

    3. P-P Says – “because prop-driven planes can’t approach the Mach ~0.9 speed of jet-powered commercial flights.” – so – I Present to you – a Bear (Tu-95): “The Tu-95 is an enormous aircraft – it measures 151 feet (46m) from tip-to-tail and has a wingspan of 164 feet (50m). Empty it weighs 90 tonnes and is powered by four enormous turboprop engines, a form of gas turbine whose power drives propellers rather than being thrust out the back. The Bear has eight sets of propellers; all that power is enough to give it a top speed of well over 800km/h (500mph), nearly as fast as a modern airliner. Tupolev rightly predicted that early jet engine technology couldn’t meet the requirements; the Myasishchev design was a resounding failure. Unlike most propeller-driven planes, the Tu-95’s wings were sharply swept back by 35 degrees, much like those of early jet fighters. This helped the aircraft limit drag and reach such high speeds.”

      Further – same article – “There was even a civilian airline version of the Bear, which still holds the world speed record for a turboprop plane – 870 km/h (540 mph), a record that it has held since 1960.”
      Source – http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150225-the-worlds-noisiest-spyplane

      So Basically – Propellers are not the limiting factor for high speeds! Mostly – the limit – is the ability to deliver Power!

      Motors – Like the Siamese Twins in White Zombie – can certainly be used as a ‘type’ to build more Power Dense Drive Trains – http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1079928_fastest-electric-cars-green-monster-vs-white-zombie – see specs here: – http://www.plasmaboyracing.com/whitezombie.php – and note: “Siamese 9′ Dual armature series-wound. What used to be two separate 9 inch electric motors, is now one custom built motor. Thanks to ‘Hi Torque Electric’.”

      Using the Siamese twin concept, multiple copies of the new Siemens 260 kW Electric Motor could be Paired together, to build a single shaft output of: 2x = 520 kW (700 Hp); 3x = 780 kW (1,050 Hp); and 4x = 1,04 kW (1,400 Hp) – http://www.flyingmag.com/aircraft/siemens-unveils-260-kw-electric-aircraft-motor – and – this technique could be a start to Turbine level power outputs, with more responsive power delivery, as turbines are notoriously ‘Laggy’ in throttle Response!

      1. Ooops – a typo got by: “and 4x = 1,04 kW (1,400 Hp)” was supposed to be “and 4x = 1,040 kW (1,400 Hp)”! I missed the important ‘0’ there!

        Also – in above replies I made referring to the May 2016 issue of Plane and Pilot – A story on ‘Tomorrows Wings’ (Pg. 52-54) describes NASA’s current test on Multiple Small Motors and Propellers blowing over the Whole Leading Edge – with a test example wing of 9 Motors per side! Imagine 9 x 350 Hp! (3,150 hp!) I think some 6,300 Hp would be enough for some Turbo-Prop Level Commuter Plane, with 30-50 Passengers!

        I would imagine – a variation of other Turbo generator Hybrid Powerplants used, rather than just Batteries only, but that could also improve many aspects of performance, and Turbines loose power at higher altitudes, just like non-turbo’d Gas Engines do! Electric Powerplants, however – are not altitude limited, and keep in producing the same amount of power at altitude!

        The Previously mentioned Panthera, is but one example of Hybrid Electric Flight, and the lower rate fuel burn, is indicative of why such drive systems will begin to expand beyond just leading companies!

  3. georges says:

    “Straubel explained that Tesla is making this happen by initiating new types of battery manufacturing methods that utilize state of the art machines that he aided in inventing.”

    That’s interesting. So JB was involved in the battery production machinery design.

    I tried to find the specific quote in the video but the sound quality is so bad I can barely make out what he is saying.

    1. Stimpacker says:

      Just speaking in general, whenever senior/top tech executives speak, one must take claims with a grain of salt.

      “Grew business from $10M to $100M”
      That means he/she was there doing good times.

      “Aided in inventing”
      That means he/she was in the meeting room when the design work was presented and had some provided some feedback.

      “Involved in end-to-end design and manufacturing”
      Again, means that he/she were in some of those meetings.

      1. georges says:

        I wouldn’t discount JB’s involvement or his technical capability.

        JB is responsible for redesigning a significant part of the Roadsters drive train:

        “During his early days at Tesla, the company licensed a number of technologies from AC Propulsion, a small company that had pieced together a prototype electric car with acceleration similar to the Roadster’s. Tesla’s founders decided to use AC Propulsion’s parts to produce their own prototype. But those parts were “ruinously expensive,” Tarpenning says, “and no two were alike.” Straubel has since reëngineered almost every one of them.”

        http://www2.technologyreview.com/tr35/profile.aspx?TRID=742

        1. Not only has JB Been involved in the EV designs from the beginning, going further back, I contacted him in those early days, because I was interested in one of the Battery Monitoring instruments (Gauges, actually) that he designed for his first EV – a Dual Motored Porsche 944, and his reply was that he was too busy to work with those projects, due to his recent employment at Tesla!

          Basically, his involvement on the Solar Car Engineering Team, and the building of his Own EV as a Conversion, was his hands on EV first experiences, all prior to there being a ‘Tesla Motors’! Problem solving is in his nature, and hands on is not something he is strange to!

      2. JakeY says:

        JB isn’t just your typical office executive. He worked hands on in the engineering aspects of all the Tesla EVs so far. So I don’t think he was just BSing.

      3. arne-nl says:

        JB Straubel is a true engineer who turned into a manager sometime during his career.

  4. Mxs says:

    Range anxiety up in the air in the middle of an Atlantic . ……. Priceless.

    1. JakeY says:

      Actually, pilots are the ones least likely to have range anxiety because they are used to monitoring fuel usage and calculating required capacity.

  5. Terawatt says:

    I wonder what efficiency improvement a series hybrid electric aircraft might deliver, and what emissions reduction come with that.

    Really, the best technology for the purpose is probably nuclear powered aircrafts, but I don’t think it’s cheap! Very good range though, to the point where refueling wouldn’t usually be necessary; perhaps just once a month??

    1. jerryd says:

      One thing is landing they can regeneration rechargeabling the battery some.
      Look up metal/air batteries that can be exchanged provide 5x the capacity of best lithium.
      And zinc/air versions have already been successfully tested in truck fleets.

    2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      I don’t know what the average life is for nuclear reactor fuel rods, altho I see one online reference to 18 months.

      It would be remarkable if a nuclear powered aircraft needed to be refueled as often as once a month!

    3. JWF says:

      One of the first open air test of a nuclear powered aircraft engine was at the Idaho Reactor site. It turned into a nuclear powered contamination spreader….setting off the contamination alarms at most facilities there. Wiser minds finally prevailed and cancelled the program. Physics has not changed in the intervening decades.

  6. SVL says:

    People please, PLEASE stop making vertical videos! It looks horrible. 80% of my screen isn’t used and the part I want to see is only a subset of the actual frame.