Take An Inside Tour Of The Gigafactory With Tesla’s JB Straubel

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Originally published on EV Annex.

With such enormous interest in the new mass-market Tesla Model 3 electric vehicle, it’s imperative that Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] get their massive battery factory, the Gigafactory, constructed and fully operating on a tight timeline. In addition, Tesla’s got significant demand for it’s stationary storage products, the Powerwall and Powerpack, which also depend on heavily on the Gigafactory. To get a ‘Gig’ status update, Lauren Sommer from KQED Science* got an exclusive interview with JB Straubel, Tesla co-founder and Chief Technical Officer, and offers us a rare, inside look at progress.

Tesla is beginning battery production while neighboring sections of the factory are still under construction
About 14 percent of the Gigfactory has been built so far. It’s expected to be one of the largest buildings on the planet.

Sommer writes, “Tesla’s Gigafactory is a lot like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory: it’s mysterious, it’s big and few people have been inside… It’s tucked away in a dusty valley, half an hour east of Reno. Driving up Electric Avenue, the factory is a stark contrast on the horizon. It’s a sleek white building with a red stripe, almost like one of the company’s cars.” In her interview with Tesla’s top brass, Straubel proclaims, “It’s really hard to get a sense of scale. I mean, it’s huge… I think it’s on the order of around a hundred football fields.” Straubel says, the Gigafactory is about scale. He believes scaling up could drive down the cost of batteries 30 percent or more. “We think we’ll probably be able to exceed that,” Straubel says. “Our vehicles can be more affordable. More people can have access to them.”

Gigafactory will be approximately as large as 100 football fields when competed

He talks about the process of baking batteries, “So this is a pretty exciting room,” Straubel says. It’s filled with huge metal tanks, almost like an insanely-large industrial kitchen. “This is where we will actually mix the materials, the raw materials, we mix them into what’s called a slurry.” The main pieces of the lithium-ion batteries, the anode and cathode, are baked by huge machines in yet another room. “It’s a little bit like a giant baking oven except it’s a few hundred feet long,” he says.

Construction continues on the Gigafactory exterior
Tesla’s Powerwall production line.

Just one room over, the part of the Gigafactory that is running is making something else: the Powerwall. It’s a flat battery, about 4 feet long, 3 feet wide, and it’s Tesla’s first battery for your house. There are stacks of them on the factory floor, ready to ship to customers. “If someone has solar on their house and they install a Powerwall, what this lets you do is store your surplus solar energy,” Straubel says. Homeowners could then use around 7 kilowatt-hours of that stored energy at night, which is several hours’ worth, depending on energy demand. The production floor is also stacked with Powerpacks, a larger version of the battery about the size of a refrigerator. They’re designed to store electricity at factories, industrial sites, or on the grid itself by electric utilities.

Production is underway for Tesla’s home battery, the Powerwall
Tesla CTO JB Straubel in front of Powerpacks, refrigerator-size batteries for factories or electric utilities

So we were wondering — how exactly does a home Tesla Powerwall installation happen? We did some digging and we found this video that showcases some of the install process…

In any event, batteries (for both stationary storage and electric vehicles) are an integral part of Tesla’s strategy according to Straubel.  “Batteries are the missing piece in allowing sustainable energy to scale up to 100 percent of our energy needs,” he says. “We’re confident that eventually just about every vehicle on the road will move to being electric. That’s changing the transportation landscape. That’s changing the energy landscape. It is changing the world,” he says.

*Source: KQED Science (article/photos: Lauren Sommer; graphics: Teodros Hailye)

Reprinted with permission.

Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Our Latest EVObsession Video

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it!! So, we've decided to completely nix paywalls here at CleanTechnica. But...
Like other media companies, we need reader support! If you support us, please chip in a bit monthly to help our team write, edit, and publish 15 cleantech stories a day!
Thank you!

CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.

Guest Contributor

We publish a number of guest posts from experts in a large variety of fields. This is our contributor account for those special people, organizations, agencies, and companies.

Guest Contributor has 4314 posts and counting. See all posts by Guest Contributor

41 thoughts on “Take An Inside Tour Of The Gigafactory With Tesla’s JB Straubel

  • Really cool, even better when it will be totally completed with all the PV on the roof and the wind turbines near by! :))

  • For a site which gives all the details and ongoing energy measurements of the powerwall installed with PV in a residence in Australia see: http://unleashthepowerwall.com/

  • This is all pretty generic and mostly the same old spin.
    I was hoping for a bit more information from JB as to exactly HOW the massive scale of the gigafactory would facilitate lower cell costs, in comparison to the (already huge) factories in Asia.
    How will Tesla’s process differ? What specific advantages do they foresee for this process? How big does the factory need to be before these economies of scale start kicking in?
    Also, how much of the supply chain is already in place? How much of the equipment is installed? What is the current capacity for battery packs? Why has there been such a significant re-evaluation of the space requirement? What is the new number for kWh per square meter per day (or something similar)? Has there been a significant breakthrough that has prompted them to stop building at the current not-quite-giga scale? What sort of revised capacity will be possible from the fully completed (as originally envisaged) factory.
    Are they already producing cells? If not, when do they plan to start?

    Interesting to have it confirmed that some of the required machinery is already installed on site. That’s new. Did the author actually SEE the giant drying oven on the next room?

    • Cells are produced in a temperature, humidity and particulate controlled environment. The tunnel dryer would be in that area. The photos show only general assembly environment.

    • I agree Rob, the article headline caught my eye but upon reading it, it (kinda) failed to deliver. However, nice to see the OZ video being feature, which I had seen before. However, with all this said, there remains major limitations with the Storage systems on offer at the moment. Finn Peacock from SolarQuotes in OZ has provided some insights into the battery limitations, but it goes even further in that the limitations extend to the charge and discharge rates which will not necessarily address real time consumption demands I feel.

    • There are zero factories that will be anywhere near as big as Tesla.

      The Gigafactory will have more capacity than all Li battery production in the entire world combined.

      • I think BYD is on track to have a larger annual output.

        • Not according to Tesla. Musk announced this during the Model 3 reveal.

    • There is a great article, I think about 24M, saying that Li-ion batteries are made using machines designed to make cassette tapes.

      Sony had a spare tape factory in 1990 and decided to use it to make Li-ion cells.

      I read that Tesla use a different/faster adhesive to stick the cathode/anode on.

  • Do we know anything about the Powerpack ? 100 kWh ?

  • In the interview doesn’t the reported state that cells are already being manufactured in the factory? I seem to recall them making pouch cells for stationary storage.

    • They’re not pouch cells. The stationary storage cells seem to be very similar in design to the battery packs for the cars: cylindrical cells placed vertically in boxes. This makes perfect sense; parallelism allows for individual cell failures without affecting the overall product.

  • So if it has taken over a year and a half to build 14% of the factory is it really realistic to expect the full capability of producing 500,000vehicles/year will be achieved by 2020?

    • Why not? It’s just a matter of bringing in enough construction crews .
      Four years to mid-2020. 22% per year.

      A lot of the heavy lifting has been done. Permitting, site prep, roads, power stuff is done. Concept has been proved.

      Start a concrete crew at one end and as soon as the slab is cured enough to work on start framing. Electricians, roofers, plumbers, equipment installers, etc. follow the framers from one end of the building to the other….

    • The Hoover Dam took 18 months after the concrete was poured.

    • They flattened the entire site. That’s a remarkably expensive and slow part of the process. Putting up the rest of the building could be done in three months. Fitting it out, maybe a year.

    • It only took 18 months to finish the Hoover Dam after the concrete started pouring.

    • “You’re not thinking 4th dimensionally”

      It isn’t linear. A percentage is utterly useless, and misleading statistic. With zero predictive power regarding when to expect completion.

    • Only after you got a bucket chain organized and everyone knows how to do it, it will be pretty fast to deliver the water from one end to the other..
      Same here.
      Remember this is the first time Tesla is doing it on such a scale.
      You got to hire people, you got to organize them, you got sub-contractors and partners that need to line up, you need to hire more people..
      There is a learning curve involved.
      It’s exponential.

      • So many people have defended Tesla against my post and right in their own response indicate how complicated a process this is and that they WILL learn. Truth is no one knows and mistakes get made and this is a complicated building. I appreciate the Tesla defense, but the reality is there is a lot that can go wrong still and Tesla isn’t exactly known for meeting deadlines.

        Too many people take my posts as an attack on Tesla and come blindly to their defense… My posts are not intended that way. I am a Tesla stock holder and a huge Tesla fan, but I also live in this world and watch people and companies fail with the best intentions…

        • Tesla’s biggest partner in the Gigafactory is Panasonic which is already operating gigafactories in Japan and China. Panasonic’s Suminoe Plant in Osaka, Japan is a direct predecessor to the Gigafactory and current makes the cells for Tesla’s Model S and X. Therefore, Tesla has a lot of experience on its side as well as lessons to learn from to make the Gigafactory better.

  • “He talks about the process of baking batteries…”
    Part of the problem with battery binder, it has to be cured.

  • Some reports say the powerwall is very noisy. It shouldn’t be as people hate intrusive noise. There are quiet fans available!

    • Computer fans are less than conversation volume. I have a high volume fan that may be closer to a vacuum cleaner. Why would the Powerwall need more than a couple of good computer fans? The complaints make no sense to me.

      • Perhaps, but the battery isn’t a PC.

        The inverter also has a fan, and as far as I know, there are no complaints about that.

    • The reports were maintenance issues. High power switching like the inverter can be noisy if they have any defects.
      Solar panels may last 20-30… but electronics handling the aggregate power can have a shorter lifespan. One of the indicators of failure, besides burning out, is getting noisy.

      That being said, buy only high quality panels, high quality batteries, and high quality inverters.

  • I’m a huge fan of Musk and his aspirations but, and this keeps cropping up on here and elsewhere, if a radical alternative to the Li On model appears on the scene, where does this leave the Gigafactory? And Tesla?

    • One of two things.

      1) Panasonic/Tesla licenses the new technology, changes their manufacturing process, and produces even better batteries.

      2) The owner of the new battery refuses to license to P/T and Tesla is screwed.

      The probability of #2? Probably very low. If you’ve got a new world-shaking battery your best move is probably to license is to as many companies as possible, earn as much in royalties as possible as quickly as possible. Your very advanced battery might be outdone by something that comes out of another company later.

      (DId I set a probably:other word record? Probably not….)

      • What Bob said.

      • Not licensing it to a company that plans to build more batteries yearly than all the world producers in 2013…combined?

        • If Apple were the inventor then they might not share.

          Apple is like that….

      • Radical new alternative batteries are likely to start off being expensive. They will learn over time how to manufacture them cheaply. The batteries will likely gain an initial foothold in specialist areas that warrant a large premium price for much greater energy density, charge rate or cycling life. People would pay a large premium to have double their smart phone battery watt-hour capacity. It is not likely that a radical new battery type will make it into cars in the next three years. Let’s see how Dyson goes with their solid state battery. It is still lithium ion but is likely to have significantly higher energy.


        I saw an interview with the CEO of Sakti3 before Dyson bought the tech. She was bullish on the prospects for the battery, but then she has to talk up the prospects.

    • Adding to Bob’s very good explanation…

      A battery, regardless of chemistry, can be made in the same form factor as current cells. Even with a radical new chemistry, most of the components have the same manufacturing process. Just a different set of ingredients.
      So, think of it more like recipes. Tesla is improving their own all the time, but also they remain open and able to shift to a new one as soon as it becomes clear that’ the way to go.

      • Tesla was very clear that they designed the Gigafactory in a manner which would make it easier to change to a different manufacturing process if a better and different battery came along.

        • I mean, they could be wrong if the market replaces chemical batteries with supercapacitors or some other change which basically renders the entire *type* of production line irrelevant. But they are being as adaptable as they can arrange to be.

  • Google maps has what appears to be a recent shot over the Gigafactory and it’s 17 miles to the nearest built up area. I wonder why this remote location was chosen over something providing a shorter daily commute.

    • Cheaper land probably.

      And GF1 does not have a natural gas pipe connection.

      Tesla chose to force themselves to live without one so their factory is less polluting or more innovative.

    • Massive tax breaks from the local county.

  • 3,500 Powerwall 6.4 kW
    3,000 for the inverter
    2,000 DC Optimizers (25 +/-) (need that MPPT)
    300 for the 5000W transformer (Optional)

    Grand Total Before Installation: $8,800

    Recommended add on For the SolarEdge Powerwall Compatable Inverter:
    5,000 watts continuous output for your backup loads
    7,600 watts peak power output (10 seconds)
    NEMA 3R enclosure included for outdoor protection against the elements
    Includes thermal protection
    12 Year Warranty

    Claims Powerwall Compatable
    SEDSE7600STOR SolarEdge SE7600A-USS 400V 7600W
    SOLAREDGE SE7600A-US 7.66KW GRID TIE INVERTER, WITH RAPID SHUTDOWN (No mention of the Powerwall.)
    Wholesale Solar
    SolarEdge SE7600A-USS 7.6KW StorEdge Inverter

    Then this:

    SMA, the maker of Sunny Boy inverters, has unveiled another inverter product in the same line – the Sunny Boy Storage 2.5, which is compatible with the Tesla Powerwall. The new storage inverter does not contain the same components as the Sunny Island inverters, so it is expected to cost half as much. PV Magazine estimated that in US dollars the price might be around $1,100. It has a maximum discharge power of 2.5 kilowatts and can be connected in parallel. The tech specs sheet is here, if you would like to see it. (PDF)

  • “Batteries are the missing piece in allowing sustainable energy to scale up to 100 percent of our energy needs,” says Straubel.

    You either have to say “Storage is the missing piece… ” or “Batteries are a missing piece”.

    I’ve been reading on gtm about the “solar singularity” where in places with good insolation and low interest rates, the cost of solar is down to 2 cents/kWh, dirt cheap. Crazy cheap. Fully charge the Leaf for 50 cents cheap.

    Something tells me there’s room in the market for one more innovation – something that stores all that dirt cheap solar in a dirt cheap way. That’s when the energy transformation turns really crazy – a positive feedback loop with no dampener.

Comments are closed.