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Published on June 6th, 2014 | by Christopher DeMorro


Elon Musk Unimpressed By Battery Breakthroughs

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June 6th, 2014 by

It seems like every other day, some company somewhere is claiming some major breakthrough in battery technology. Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is unimpressed and unfazed by these reports, though the upcoming Gigafactory will be ready should one of these battery breakthroughs pan out.

When asked at a shareholder meeting if Tesla is worried about a battery breakthrough coming from elsewhere in the industry, Musk answered simply. He said that so far, none of the supposed breakthroughs have held up at a laboratory level or actually exceed Tesla’s own composition.

As far as the Gigafactory goes, should one of these breakthroughs happen, it would be relatively simple to retool the factory to utilize the new anode or cathode, where most battery research is focused. In fact, Musk expects “…to evolve the anode and cathode. It’s not merely, ‘What if that happens.’ We expect that to happen.”

Right now, lithium-ion batteries remain king of the energy storage world, but Musk is hopefully staying afoot of all the advancements being made. One of the most promising is the aluminum-air battery debuted by Phinergy and Alcoa, through a rival automaker could be the one to come up with a better battery at the end of the day.

It’s obvious Musk and Tesla are looking well ahead into the future, and they won’t be caught by surprise when a battery breakthrough inevitably happens.

Source: TeslaMondo

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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or esle, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • Ferdinand

    Well, that was certainly uninformative.

  • Kent Beuchert

    Now you don’t suppose that Musk might be pooh-poohing the idea of a much better battery because it might hurt sales if prospective customers supect that they might be buying a car with a $40,000 battery soon to be rendered obsolete, now do you?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Kent, how long have Ruden batteries been on the market?

      How many have been sold?

      What’s the cost?

      How have they held up in normal/regular use?

      • Bob_Wallace

        You seem to not be able to answer those questions, Kent. Let me see if I can help you out. First a bit about the promise of the Ryden…

        “Power Japan Plus says that its dual-carbon battery offers an energy density comparable to lithium-ion batteries; charges 20 times faster than lithium-ion batteries; is rated for more than 3,000 cycles; and can slot directly into existing manufacturing processes, requiring no change to existing manufacturing lines. The ability to charge the battery so rapidly could, the company proposes, enable longer-range electric vehicles, as regenerative breaking will be more efficient.”

        That sounds great. 3,000 cycles in a 200 mile range EV would mean a 300,000 battery. 20x faster recharge would mean that charge time would be limited by the size of the supply, not the batteries, and could mean “5 minute recharging”.

        Now the questions…

        “Under this partnership, Power Japan Plus will provide Ryden cells and Team TAISAN will leverage its international racing experience to optimize the battery and develop a battery pack and management circuit. A go-kart powered by the Ryden dual carbon battery will begin test driving August of this year.”

        Oh, there are no Ryden batteries yet so we that’s why we can’t answer the questions and that’s why we don’t know if this technology is for real.

        And here’s why Elon doesn’t need to be worried…

        “can slot directly into existing manufacturing processes, requiring no change to existing manufacturing lines”

        If these batteries do work out then Tesla can likely license the technology and start making a new type battery.

        Quotes from…

    • maifriend

      Keep in mind that the Prius uses battery technology that is obsolete – nimh. Nevertheless Toyota sold 5 millions of them and keep selling them. People don’t buy a Tesla because of its battery but for what the car offers.

  • Kent Beuchert

    Musk must not read the papers. The TAISAN race team, which has won the LeMans
    24 hour, and which has struggled trying to get Tesla roadsters to perform satisfactorily in electric car races (without success, due to crappy lithium battery technology, as they will tell you in their video) has now partnered with Power Japan Plus to develop a battery pack using the revolutionary dual carbon Ryden battery, which they will produce this August. Power Japan is not getting into the battery production business nor into the electric car business, but will license the technology. Any existing battery factory can produce the new batteries without need for
    significant production changes. These will render the battery packs of every existing Model S totally and hopelessly obsolete. They might or might not license the technology to Musk. Regardless, Tesla Motor is going to have probably a lot more competition than they can handle,as the new battery technology makes all of
    Tesla’s battery pack technology totally obsolete – no cooling required, no crash barriers, much higher recharge rates than Tesla’s Supecharger stations can handle, etc etc. In a word, the Model S as it now stands,becomes hopelessly obsolete and overpriced.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Kent, how long have Ruden batteries been on the market?

      How many have been sold?

      What’s the cost?

      How have they held up in normal/regular use?

  • Neganed

    I’m particularly interested in the dual carbon battery.

    • Jouni Valkonen

      I do not believe dual carbon battery.

      However there was funny thing, that Elon Musk was not aware of that supposed dual carbon battery technology breakthrough, but he babbled something general and technically incorrect about the topic.

      This tells me something that although different Internet blogs do like to fancy with all kinds of battery breakthroughs, those who are really doing business with the technogy do not even bother to listen the various claims of various companies, who are seeking funding from venture capitalists by promising teradollar level disruption of EV and energy storage markets!

      Therefore first rule in battery tech! There are no revolutions and black swans, but the progress of battery tech follows more like a Moore’s Law, where the cost performance improves exponentially and predictably.

      • vadik

        Do you mean Ryden battery? Those guys are already at the manufacturing stage. I can’t believe Musk never heard of them, it’d be stupid not to follow them.

        Lithium-ion cannot evolve much any more as they are very close to theoretical energy density. Little evolution possible with this technology in terms of energy density.

        So all you can do is sit and wait for a breakthrough with lithium-sulphur – they already have some impressive results in terms of cycleability, but still short of using it in a BEV.

        As soon as this breakthrough happens road to market will be very speedy.

        • Zachary Shahan

          can you drop a really good link or two here about the Ryden battery?

        • Zachary Shahan
          • Scott Sexton

            Yes Zachary, the link you posted is the Ryden dual carbon (carbon anode and cathode) battery technology that was recently announced. If their (“Power Japan Plus”) claimed Ryden battery technology lives up to small scale production during the rest of 2014, it will be a very viable alternative to the Lithium-Sulfur chemistry research that Vadik mentioned. Elon Musk should have been in contact with Power Japan Plus to verify their technology claims. I hope it is not a bad indicator that I have seen nothing in the news directly connecting Elon Musk and the Ryden battery, but maybe that news is still to come? I’m hoping so because many years of Lithium-Air technology research was recently abandoned by important companies like IBM (their “Battery 500″ project). That promising technology, if I read correctly, could not be scaled up because even one water molecule getting past the battery’s filters could do extensive damage to it’s ability to recharge.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I would imagine Elon has assembled a high quality battery technology crew. I doubt that he keeps up with every little detail of what might happen a few years down the road. The guy has a lot to pay attention to that’s happening in the near future.

        • Jouni Valkonen

          the energy density of lithium-ion batteries is already good enough. E.g. forthcoming Rimac EV will have 600 km range and 92 kWh battery.

          What is still left is to improve cost performance. The cycle life is getting better and today we are approaching the price of $200 per kWh and Tesla is already confident that they can push the battery cost down to $150 per kWh with Gigafactory.

        • awakeinwa

          y’all need to listen to the last shareholders meeting when he addresses the carbon battery directly. It’s not sufficient to power the Tesla and is inferior to the existing battery tech.

  • IMPOed

    At the risk of exposing my ignorance, I would like to add a solar powered electrical system to my home but the battery banks are quite expensive and fickle, i.e. having to replace the entire bank if one battery fails etc., every five or ten years, would a electric car battery bank be more stable?

    • Bob_Wallace

      I’d suggest you search around for forums where off the grid people hang out and read up on the Home Power site.

      I just put in a new set of batteries and went with Trojan T-105 REs, which should be good for 10-11 years. There might be better options but I doubt an electric car bank would be the affordable option. EV batteries have to be a lightweight as possible, for grid storage weight is not an issue.

      My recommendation, strategy-wise, would be to look for a good 5-10 year solution and expect that options will be significantly better a few years from now.

      • IMPOed

        Wow, that was speedy,, :>)
        I was just on a electric car battery site and you are correct, lithium-ion batteries would definitely put one in the poor house,
        Those very batteries you are using were the ones I was considering.
        Thank You for your help, I will stop by again. good day!

        • Zachary Shahan

          Note that Bob has been off-grid for decades and definitely reads up on things before making decisions. Good thing you dropped your comment in here, but seems like you had found your way to your solution anyhow. :D

          • IMPOed

            Well, I certainly found a solution to my woes, I will try not to be to much of a pest,, :>)

          • Zachary Shahan

            No worries! Stick around!! :D

    • nakedChimp

      There are calcs out there that show the Li-Ion (LFP mostly) are on par with deep cycle wet cells when you compare them over their respective lifecycle.
      LFPs can be discharged down to 80% and you get 2000 cycles of them, at just 70% you can get 3000 cycles. For LAB batteries to get similar cycle numbers (often cited 1000-2000 cycles at 50% DOD) you can only discharge to 50% or less.

      Just an example.. price wise I look at 0.39 AUD/Wh for LFP vs. 0.21 AUD/Wh for LAB (just the raw cells).
      Now I crunch some numbers.. let’s say 10kWh energy storage is needed and we want to be conservative and careful so low DOD for long cycle times and we want the battery to last 3000 cycles (8 years), what do we get?
      LFP: 70% DOD = 3000 cycles -> needs 14.3kWh, this costs around 5,600 AUD.
      LAB: 50% DOD = 1500 cycles -> needs 20 kWh every 4 years, this costs 8,400 AUD.

      Now, with Li-ION you need battery management systems that take care of each cell (not needed for LAB) and it’s still new, so you will not find people who know what they’re doing (expensive guys) so the 0.39 AUD/Wh won’t apply, but it shows you where this is heading.

      • eveee

        You said what I was gonna say. Monkey see, monkey do. Hey, you must be an EV battery guy. And this..!/~/product/id=12477202

        34kWhr, 3000 cycle, 12k. Full off grid solution. BMS and inverter to make AC. Its easy to see this as a 6000 cycle solution lasting 15 years or more.

        • nakedChimp

          No, no EV battery guy.. just tech interested and currently living semi-rural where I can’t feed in PV, so have to look for ways to use it myself while prices for grid-power are rising.
          EV would be nice though (alas range for me would be a problem, but I could surely fit in a smallish car with 100km range), but I was an early adapter for other tech several times already and don’t want to / can’t be at the forefront this time round (money to scarce ;-)

  • BorgWorshipper

    Plus, any new battery/battery chemistry, has to be high volume capable and affordable. So far, nothing has exceeded Tesla’s approach. Power density and energy density.

  • Steven F

    I would have to agree with Elon on this. For any rechargeable battery you want a chemical reaction that is perfectly reversible. So you want to have the same chemicals in the battery when it is charged or discharged.. However with all current batteries you get unwanted side reactions that can eventually kill the battery.

    Manufacturers are getting good and minimizing or controlling the unwanted side reactions in currently available batteries. But they have not yet been able to eliminate them. An as a result all batteries you have buy will eventually fail to recharge.

    Most of the battery breakthroughs reported don’t discuss the unwanted side reactions. Lithium air and lithium sulfur batteries would be a great improvement over what we have but as yet no one has been able to control the unwanted side reactions well enough to make them a commercial product.

  • vadik

    There exist non-rechargeable aluminum-air batteries and there exist rechargeable aluminum-air batteries.
    Aluminum-air technology is so far a little too far in the future.
    The next step in rechargeable batteries are lithium-sulphur which can potentially double the energy density and thus make BEVs competitive with ICEs on range and costs.

    • Zachary Shahan

      what do you think of lithium-air?

      • vadik

        Both aluminum-air and lithium-air require air/oxygen management which eats up its relative advantage to lithium-sulphur.

        While lithium-sulphur is fully adequate to bury ICE.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Where is lithium-sulfur on the route to actual use? How many ‘valley of death’s have yet to be crossed?

          • Mint


            High density batteries will find use in high end smartphones and ultrabooks first, because lower cycle life is forgiveable, and consumers will pay $2 per Wh for it if battery life can be increased 50-100% without increasing size/weight.

            It’s not even on the radar in that market. After that, it then needs to be refined for cycle life, calender life, and cost-reduced by a factor of 20 (down to $100/kWh).

            I think Li-S is a promising technology, but it’s a decade away for automotive use.

      • Mint

        Zinc-air is more likely to make an impact in the auto sector, IMO, as it can be cycled. Eos Energy Storage is already claiming 10,000 cycles, using it for 4-6 hour grid storage systems (to handle peak load).

        They have a fuel-cell-esque system for automobiles in the works, too, where pumping in electrolyte with zinc flakes allows 3-5 min charging. The old electrolyte can then be slowly restored, turning zinc oxide back into zinc flakes.

        • Zachary Shahan

          Yes, I’m curious about that one as well. But I spoke with the head of a company that was working for a long time on zinc air and moved to something else bcs of zinc air’s seemingly inherent limitations/issues. He said, in other words, that he was quite skeptical about these claims and curious if they have come up with some sort of magic bullet solution or if it’s just talk. We’ll see.

    • jeffhre

      Yes, perhaps a few steps away. Though lithium-silicon or carbon nanostructure could also be “the next step.”
      As Mr. Musk has said, aside from a few obscure tests, none has made it through the lab, let alone outside of one. And as far as double the density, one of the two main reasons to double density is to halve the price, and Musk is expecting the gigafactory to cut 30% from the price in any case so…Incremental change is better than nothing right?

    • Jouni Valkonen

      I personally do not believe lithium-sulphur batteries to come within next 10 years. Any longer predictions are of course impossible because they are beyond prediction horizon.

      I am here with Elon Musk that the progress of battery technology will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. And lithium-ion batteries will be the near future standard for both electric vehicles or energy storage for solar panels.

      There is plenty of potential left to improve the cost per kWh, cycle life and energy and power density with lithium-ion technology.

      The next big thing with battery technology will be the scaling up of production volumes, the simplification of component supply chain and repurposing and recycling old EV batteries. And as a matter of fact, gigafactory is set to accomplish exactly this!

  • Steve Grinwis

    That aluminum air battery is more like a solid fuel fuel cell. It’s not rechargeable.

    • EdwardInFlorida

      @Steve. First of all, there is no such thing as a “solid fuel cell”. That is an oxymoron. Second of all, if aluminum air batteries where elusively available only as non rechargeable, no one would be talking about the future possibility of using it to power EVs.

      • Steve Grinwis

        Aluminium air batteries are not rechargeable. Full stop. Check your facts. The Aluminum is consumed as a part of the reaction.

        Here’s the complete reaction:
        4Al + 3O2 + 6H2O → 4Al(OH)3 + 2.71 V

        They are ‘rechargeable’ only in the sense that you can replace the aluminium, and top it up with more water. The aluminium can be recycled, but have fun rebuilding your battery ever 2k kms. LI-ION is still definitely the way to go. Only thing I could see, would be having a small Al-Air battery to enable longer trips, but even then, it’s not like I can drive to BC and back on 2k kms. I’d rather see faster superchargers. A full charge in 5-10 minutes would enable me to drive my EV like it was a gasostank car.

  • vperl

    Elon, the man at the right place and time. Go TESLA

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