Elon Musk says Tesla’s new 4680 cells have already been powering prototypes for months. Clarifying on the Battery Day presentation, Musk also added Tesla will initially only produce the high energy pure Nickel Cathode batteries.
Suppliers. We’re only doing high energy nickel ourselves, at least for now. Also, maybe the presentation wasn’t clear that we’ve actually had our cells in packs driving cars for several months. Prototypes are trivial, volume production is hard.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 26, 2020
For the other less energy-dense batteries, Elon says Tesla will use suppliers. From the tweet, it is not clear whether Tesla is planning to keep using the current cells or have suppliers produce the new cells.
In the Battery Day presentation, Tesla outlined a three-tiered approach for its cars. Weight sensitive long-range cars like the Semi and Cybertruck will use the highest energy pure nickel cathode batteries. The intermediate class cars, like the Model S, X, Y, and powerwall will use the nickel manganese cathode batteries. And medium-range, not mass sensitive products like the upcoming cheaper “Model 2”, Model 3, and Megapacks will use iron cathode cells.
The necessity for this approach seems to be the limited availability of nickel. In the Battery Day presentation, Elon Musk said by using nickel manganese cells, Tesla can produce 30 percent more cars for the same amount of nickel.
According to Musk, building batteries with two-thirds nickel, one-third manganese should be straightforward. The company didn’t elaborate on the energy density differences between the pure nickel and nickel manganese cells.
However, Drew Baglino, Tesla’s senior vice-president of powertrain and energy engineering, has said this approach has little energy tradeoff between the two cell types.
For a while now, Elon Musk has been calling onto mining companies to produce more nickel. Speaking on the Q2 earnings call, Elon Musk even said, “produce nickel and we will give you a giant contract”.
But, in the long run, Tesla has plans to solve the minerals problem on its own. In the Battery Day presentation, Musk said Tesla is going into the mining business.
To start, Tesla has bought the rights to a lithium deposit in Nevada. There, the company plans to pioneer a new way of sustainable lithium mining. In the presentation, Musk said Tesla will be using sodium chloride (table salt) and water to extract lithium from the ground. This process should significantly reduce lithium processing costs and eliminate water waste.
Musk believes there is enough lithium just in Nevada to convert the entire US car fleet to electric. And the company seems to already be moving on its lithium processing plans. Today a company called Piedmont announced it has signed an agreement with Tesla to supply the latter with raw lithium.
In the agreement, Piedmont will supply Tesla with spodumene concentrates and Tesla will take this and process it and extract the lithium.
But, since the way lithium ends up in the battery is through the cathode, Tesla plans to build a cathode production plant in Nevada next to the lithium processing plant. This plant will combine the two minerals to form the final nickel-lithium mix that will end up in the batteries.
And to increase the availability of nickel, the company says it has simplified the process of mining the mineral. The way the company was able to do this was by eliminating the need for the production of nickel sulfide. This is an intermediate step where the mined nickel is mixed with sulphuric acid. This mix is then transported to its final destination where it has to be converted back to the initial raw metal.
According to the tweet, Tesla seems to be waiting for these mining techniques to be standardized until the company starts producing batteries with the none pure nickel cathodes.
So what do you think? How long will it be till the high energy pure cathode batteries are in all of Tesla's products? Also, do you think Tesla will license or some forms of its new batteries to suppliers or is the company going to keep using the 2170 cells? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments below.
For more information checkout: Elon Musk calls this quarter the toughest in global deliveries Also see, Tesla offers acceleration boost for the Model Y.
Tinsae Aregay has been following Tesla and The evolution of the EV space on a daily basis for several years. He covers everything about Tesla from the cars to Elon Musk, the energy business, and autonomy. Follow Tinsae on Twitter at @TinsaeAregay for daily Tesla news.