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Tesla's Battery Supplier Panasonic is Working on New EV Battery Technology That Can Boost Range by 20%

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【Summary】Tesla’s battery supplier Panasonic says it's working on new technology that can improve a battery’s energy density and boost EV range by 20 percent. If Panasonic achieves its goal, it could boost the range of the Tesla Model 3 for example, by 100 km (62 miles), without increasing the size of the battery pack.

Eric Walz    Jul 13, 2022 1:10 PM PT
Tesla's Battery Supplier Panasonic is Working on New EV Battery Technology That Can Boost Range by 20%

Electric vehicle (EV) range is a big concern for many car shoppers thinking about the purchase of an EV. Although automakers are building new EVs with ranges well over 300 miles that's more than enough for most drivers, breakthroughs in new battery technology could improve range even more.

Tesla's battery supplier Panasonic says it's working on new technology that can improve a battery's energy density and boost EV range by 20%, Reuters reported on Wednesday. The company aims to produce the more energy dense batteries by 2030.

If Panasonic achieves its goal, it could boost the range of the Tesla Model 3 for example, by 100 km (62 miles), without increasing the size of the battery pack. But it can also allow automakers like Tesla to use a smaller, less costly battery pack without sacrificing range. Building EVs with smaller batteries will also make them more affordable. 

Panasonic Energy, a core unit of Panasonic Holdings, plans to achieve higher energy density by using a new mix of additives to allow individual battery cells to run at a higher voltage without causing performance degradation, said Panasonic Energy CTO, Shoichiro Watanabe, in an interview. "The race among battery makers has been to come up with more potent and effective additives," he said.

Watanabe said that boosting the individual cell voltage to 4.3 or 4.4 volts is possible with a new mix of additives to the electrolyte which separates the negative and positive charged electrodes. The current Panasonic batteries used by Tesla have a max charge voltage of 4.2v.

"If we can get that to 4.5 or 4.6 volts, I think the whole world view in terms of what's possible for EVs would change," Watanabe said.

According to Reuters, Panasonic has developed ways to prevent "microcracking," which are tiny cracks that develop in the positive electrode when a battery is repeatedly charged and discharged. These cracks shorten a battery's service life. One solution being worked on by Panasonic is using "single-crystal materials" for the battery's positive electrode, he said.

Panasonic is also working to replace more of the graphite used in battery's negative electrodes with silicon-based nanoparticles, Watanabe said. Silicon nanoparticles have almost ten times the theoretical energy capacity of the graphite materials most commonly used in today's lithium batteries, which results in a more energy dense battery. 

The battery pack is the most expensive component in an EV, costing roughly $132 for each kWh of power, according to Bloomberg NEF. For Tesla's Long Range Model 3, which comes with a 82 kWh battery pack, that comes to $10,824. But smaller batteries offering the same range can drive down the cost of EVs and spur widespread adoption, which is currently around 3% of all vehicles sold. 

Although battery costs have declined since the Model S was launched in 2021, $100 per kWh is considered to be the point at which EVs will cost the same to build as comparable internal combustion engine vehicles. 

The high cost to produce batteries is one of the reasons why Tesla never managed to reach its goal of selling the Model 3 for $35,000. The Standard Range Model 3 now costs $46,990, while the Long Range is priced at $57,990 in the U.S. But using more energy dense batteries could allow Tesla to lower its vehicle prices without affecting its profit margins.

Panasonic is already supplying Tesla with its new larger-format 4680 batteries, which are expected to lower production costs and improve range compared to the current-generation 2170 battery, the automaker has said. Tesla is using the new 4680 batteries in Model Y SUVs built at its new factory in Austin, TX.

The new 4680 cell was unveiled by Panasonic in Oct 2021 at a media event. The numerical format of the battery is based on its dimensions of 46 millimeters (mm) wide by 80 mm tall. Panasonic says the improved nickel-cobalt-aluminum 4680 cell stores more energy, reduces battery costs by up to 50% and drives a 100-fold increase in battery production by 2030. 

The 4680 cells are roughly 5 times bigger than the "4170" (41mm wide, 70 mm tall) and "18650" (18mm wide, 65 mm tall) cells that Tesla used in the Model S sedan.

Tesla has also entered into battery supply deals with South Korea's LG Energy Solution and China's Contemporary Amperex Technology Limited (CATL) for the batteries that go into the vehicles built at its Shanghai factory.

CATL is the world's biggest supplier of batteries to the auto industry.

Last month, CATL unveiled its latest battery design named the "Qilin". The energy-dense cell-to-pack battery can allow an electric vehicle to travel 1,000 km (621 miles) "in a breeze", the company claims.

The Qilin battery is the third generation (CTP 3.0) of CATL's cell-to-pack (CTP) battery technology. The battery achieves the world's highest volume utilization efficiency of 72% and an energy density of up to 255 Wh/kg, which CATL says can easily deliver ranges of over 600 miles. 

For comparison, the Tesla Model 3 using lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery chemistry has a cell to pack ratio of 49% with an energy density of 173 Wh/L. 

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