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Panasonic Plans to Boost the Power of Tesla's Vehicle Batteries by 20% in the Next 5 Years

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【Summary】Japan’s Panasonic Corp., which is electric automaker’s Tesla’s exclusive battery partner in the U.S., is planning to boost the energy of its batteries by 20% over the next five years, the head of its U.S. battery business announced on Thursday.

FutureCar Staff    Jul 30, 2020 3:05 PM PT
Panasonic Plans to Boost the Power of Tesla's Vehicle Batteries by 20% in the Next 5 Years
The battery packs in Tesla vehicles are made up of thousands of individual cells made by Panasonic.

Japan's Panasonic Corp., which is electric automaker's Tesla's exclusive battery partner in the U.S., is planning to boost the energy of its batteries by 20% over the next five years, the head of its U.S. battery business announced on Thursday. The plans were first reported by Reuters.

The batteries for Tesla's U.S. vehicles are currently manufactured at Tesla's gigafactory in Nevada as part of Panasonic's in a joint partnership with Tesla.

The lithium ion batteries that Pansonic aims to improve are its "2170" cells, a name derived from the physical dimensions of the cells, which are 21x70 millimeters. In addition to improving the energy density of the 2170 cells, Panasonic plans to commercialize a cobalt-free version in about 2 to 3 years, the company said.

Panasonic introduced the improved 2170 lithium-ion cells for the Model 3, which went into production in the summer of 2017. The 2170 cells replaced the smaller 18650 cell used in the Tesla Model S. The improved 2170 cells pack are more energy dense and can accept higher charging rates than the 18650 cells.

"We're about to take another leap forward," said Panasonic Energy North America President Allan Swan. "It's kind of exciting from the Panasonic perspective; we're driving towards cobalt-free and we're driving towards higher energy-dense batteries, which gives our customers a choice of how they want to utilize that."

Automakers around the world, including Tesla, are trying to lessen their reliance on cobalt, a material found in only a few places on Earth in mass quantities. The majority of EV batteries today contain a mixture of cobalt and graphite. 

The mining of cobalt is often assciated with unsafe practices, environmental destruction and human rights violations, including the use of child labor. Workers mining for cobalt are often not provided the proper safety equipment. Most of the world's cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

From an ethical propresective automakers, face scruitunity for procuring their cobalt supplies from the region. Cobalt-free batteries would eliminate the reliance on the controversial chemical element. 

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has long said he wants to transition to zero-cobalt battery cells.

Most EV batteries currently in use are made using nickel-cobalt-aluminum (NCA) or nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC), two chemistries known for their higher energy density, which results in EVs with a longer range. Tesla currently produces these types of batteries at its Nevada gigafactory in its joint venture with Panasonic.

For drivers of electric vehicles, batteries with a higher energy density translate into more mileage between charging. Higher energy density batteries also allow automakers to pack more cells into a smaller space, so the vehicle's cabin can be made larger and more comfortable for passengers. 

Panasonic has already cut cobalt content to under 5% in the NCA cathode and plans to improve its batteries in stages, its U.S. EV battery chief Yasuaki Takamoto told Reuters.

For the Tesla Model 3's produced at the automaker's new factory in Shanghai, Chinese battery firm Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd (CATL) is supplying Tesla with lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries that contain no cobalt. It would be the first time that Tesla uses LFP batteries instead of the typical lithium-ion type. 

However Takamoto told Reuters that the average density of LFP battery cells is less than half the level of Panasonic's latest NCA batteries. Panasonic has already developed technologies resulting in a more than 5% increase in the energy density of Tesla's "2170" cells.

Reuter reports that as of September, Panasonic will start converting manufacturing lines at its factory in Nevada that it jointly operates with Tesla as it prepares to produce more energy dense cells, Takamoto said.

Panasonic is adjusting the composition and design for better thermal stability, Takamoto added.

Musk has been hinting about the company's new advanced batteries for months now. He promised to reveal them at the automaker's much anticipated "Battery Day" event in September. Musk says it will be "one of the most of exciting days in Tesla's history."

In June, CATL said its ready to build an EV battery with an expected lifespan of 1.2 million miles or 16 years before its needs replacement. Now that CATL is Tesla's new battery partner in China, its very likely that Tesla China-made vehicles will use these improved batteries.

As of now, Panasonic remains Tesla's biggest battery supplier. The company also supplies the cells for Tesla's solar roof panels. However the company's deal with Tesla is non exclusive and Panasonic is making EV batteries for Toyota in a separate joint venture.


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