Tesla Partners With Dalhousie Researcher To Lower Costs
June 17th, 2015
Tesla Motors Inc. has locked a leading advanced battery researcher into an exclusive partnership designed to help the Palo Alto, Calif., electric-car maker sharply lower the cost of its batteries.
Jeff Dahn, a professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia known for his work innovating lithium-ion batteries like those Tesla uses to power its Model S sedan, will cooperate with Tesla researchers. Now working on a project with 3M Co., he will enter a research partnership with Tesla when his current work is completed.
Financial terms weren’t available, but Tesla said it would sponsor Mr. Dahn’s research efforts roughly 6,400 kilometers from Northern California in return for his help solving Tesla’s cost problem. JB Straubel, Tesla’s chief technologist, said this week that lithium-ion battery costs need to come down significantly in coming years so the auto maker can offer lower-priced vehicles.
Tesla is the largest user of lithium-ion batteries in the world, and its cost of between $20,000 and $25,000 to produce a battery for the 85-kilowatt-hour Model S sedan is considered to be the lowest cost for a battery of that size. Based on Mr. Straubel’s expectation, battery costs will need to be cut in half for Tesla to meet a sales target of a cumulative one million vehicles by 2020.
“At this point, we don’t believe that range is the thing slowing EV growth. It’s cost,” Mr. Straubel said in an interview. “If we had twice the range, it would be more range than people needed. We are definitely on a road map to achieve half the cost.”
Mr. Dahn will focus on trying to put more voltage into batteries without damaging their longevity and reducing the cost of materials.
He patented a nickel-cobalt-manganese chemistry for battery cathodes that is now commonly used in the industry. He is also the leading researcher on why lithium-ion batteries fail.
“I am very excited in putting our tools to work to help improve the energy density and longevity of their cells,” Mr. Dahn said in a joint interview with Mr. Straubel.
Tesla’s Nevada factory is expected to produce 50 gigawatt hours of battery packs a year. In 2014, all the lithium-ion battery plants in the world only produced 30 gigawatt hours.
It was Tesla’s factory goals that attracted Mr. Dahn. “Once I heard of that I went to Tesla and wanted to know if they would be interested in sponsoring our work.”
One of his areas of expertise is silicon anodes, an alternative to graphite, which is more expensive.
In addition to improvements in chemistry, Tesla is aiming to reduce its battery costs by bringing in-house the suppliers and processing of lithium, cobalt, graphite and nickel. Experts estimate that materials make up 60% of battery costs.
“We are making steady progress on all that. Want to be cautious and take our time and make sure we have partners that have the right road map,” said Mr. Straubel. “I am happy with where those internal discussions are at.”
Venkat Viswanathan, a Carnegie Mellon Universitybattery researcher, said news of the partnership has swept through elite research institutions.
“It’s a pretty big deal. The partnership with Jeff makes perfect sense. He is a true pioneer in the field,” Mr. Viswanathan said.