There has been a ton of speculation about why Tesla bought Maxwell Technologies. The obvious but vague answer is that its battery technology will improve Tesla’s automotive and energy storage products, but we now know the more detailed answer. It’s a long story, but it’s well worth the read. Please read this post to the end, as it’s very easy to misunderstand this if you don’t get the whole story.
The important technology in question has been in development since at least June 1914. At that time, electric vehicles dominated the emerging automotive industry. Eventually, gasoline cars gained the upper hand, mostly because the battery technology of the day couldn’t compete with the range of fossil-fueled vehicles. That doesn’t mean that the people of the day didn’t try, though!
A group of Peruvian scientists came up with an important part of the puzzle: the “pearl well” (at least, that’s what it’s called according to my translations). Unfortunately, the technology of the day wasn’t up to the task of integrating this with other automotive drive components. The patents were sold to General Electric, which couldn’t make any further progress. Rockwell Technologies eventually bought the technology and attempted to develop it for heavy-duty transmissions. Eventually, the company partnered with Chrysler, which was working on an early hybrid drive unit in 1977.
Chrysler was confident enough that it could produce a working hybrid unit for the California market that it produced this training video, but its plans were ultimately thwarted by an unsolvable bug in the hybrid system that made a “hiccuping or burping sound” in the turbo encabulator unit that bothered drivers in focus groups. For this reason, the project was abandoned.
Rockwell continued attempting to develop the encabulator technology for the next 20 years, eventually creating the “retro encabulator.” Realizing that it was simply too expensive for automotive use, the company started working on military and government applications. Yet another training and sales video was produced, but outside of possible sales for highly classified projects, it doesn’t appear that it was used for anything until it was sold to Maxwell for an undisclosed amount in 1999.
More Recent Developments
According to our sources, Maxwell further developed the technology, but could only get it working when certain engineers were observing. When other engineers were watching, it wouldn’t work. This led to further testing that determined that some sort of quantum effect was likely involved. By 2015, they had effectively hit a dead end in the production of energy from the device, but had determined that it could greatly increase the possible energy that could be derived from capacitors and batteries — much more than Chrysler had envisioned.
The final piece of the puzzle came from SpaceX. In a special project with NASA’s Eagleworks Laboratories, technicians discovered that the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer (NASA.gov) could be used as a quantum discriminator when modified with some custom-pounded copper strips provided by a confused military officer who had been called in to help.
Their luck paid off. By combining SpaceX quantum discriminator technology with that of Maxwell Technologies, early testing showed that the energy density of Tesla’s battery packs could be increased tenfold, perhaps more.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, the above story is fictional.
The “turbo encabulator” and “retro encabulator” are old engineering jokes from more than 50 years ago, but a number of companies have made mock training videos (linked above). The Warp Field Interferometer is real, but to my knowledge, SpaceX has not ever worked with one. It certainly couldn’t be used as a “quantum discriminator” — which is a fictional device from Star Trek: Enterprise.
Some of you probably figured it out fairly quickly. Others may have got to the end still believing it. Either way, it shows just how easy it can be to fool people. Yes, we are widely regarded as a reputable source for information, but keep in mind that everybody gets fooled sometimes. These days, even information from reputable sources needs critical analysis.
The reason I spun this ridiculous tale is to illustrate one important point: battery technology is an industry that’s full of hype right now. There are plenty of startups these days selling good improvements to energy storage technology, but even more who are selling snake oil or technology that can’t be readily put to use at reasonable costs.
I’d love as much as anybody to be able to tell you why Tesla bought Maxwell, what technology they’re producing, and what Tesla is going to release (and when), but Tesla is smart to keep quiet right now. It may have something promising, or it might still be trying to determine what it’s working with. Even if Tesla know exactly what it will do with Maxwell’s technology, it probably doesn’t know when it will be part of any products for sale to customers.
There have been many times in the past that Tesla announced a product and a timetable, only to encounter difficulties with development, production, and manufacturing. At best, people assume Elon Musk bit off more than he could chew, but at worst, people assume he was trying to pump stock prices with hype he knew he couldn’t achieve. Either way, it appears that they’ve learned to be a little more discreet about future products to avoid the whole problem. That will probably be good for Tesla in the long run.
One other thing: be sure to watch out for scams, especially when it comes to new cleantech. While the industry as a whole is on the up and up, there is no shortage of people who are outright swindling others with big promises. They take advantage of the natural human tendencies of optimism, altruism, and a desire for a better future for our children.
Be sure to stay on your toes.
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