New Study Details Tesla’s Million-Mile Battery Tech

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For years, the sorry state of lithium-ion batteries made electric vehicles impractical. Batteries are still imperfect, but they’re a viable way to power cars for the first time in history. Tesla is at the forefront of this change, and the company may be aiming to make batteries even more reliable. A new scientific paper lends credence to a claim CEO Elon Musk made several months back. Researchers from Dalhousie University say they’re close to creating a lithium-ion battery that can run a car for over 1 million miles. 

Owners of current Tesla vehicles can expect to get about 500,000 miles out of their batteries before there’s a serious problem. So, the industry was understandably skeptical of Musk’s April 2019 claim of a million-mile design; and after all, Musk does like to frame things in the most optimistic way possible. However, the paper details a battery design that can run a million miles while losing only about 10 percent of its total capacity. 

Dalhousie University has an exclusive licensing agreement with Tesla, suggesting this technology could appear in the company’s cars. The study authors aren’t shy about disclosing the properties of their design, either. The paper includes the full cell design including electrode compositions, electrolyte mixture, additives, and more. 

An electron microscope cross-section of the new NMC electrode showing very low damage after 5,300 cycles.

The battery described in the paper uses lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) for the battery’s cathode and artificial graphite for the anode. The electrolyte that moves ions between the positive and negative electrodes consists of lithium salt and other trace materials. There’s nothing revolutionary about the components, but the way they were implemented leads to a major efficiency improvement. For example, the NMC crystal structure described in the paper should be more able to resist wear and tear over time. 

According to the team, they provided this level of detail so other groups can build the batteries as a benchmark for their own designs. Even if Tesla has an exclusive license to this technology, it does seem odd the researchers would put all the details out there. Battery designs are often closely guarded secrets in the EV industry. Others in the field speculate that Tesla already has a better version of the battery from the study that it will put in vehicles. Still, providing this information could help other companies improve their own designs in the future.

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