Department of Energy Provides Battery500 Project Update

‪A Model 3 cell has an energy density of 160 Wh / kg. ‬‪The Department of Energy’s Battery500 consortium is working on increasing that to 500 — a 1,000 mile Model 3. ‬‪In an update today, they revealed they’ve hit 350 Wh / kg and see a path to 500. @elonmusk ‬

In July of 2016, right before the election that would transform the federal government, Obama’s Department of Energy launched the Battery500 consortium. The goal was to provide funding and resources to a group of top universities and institutions to figure out how to create a next generation battery cell.

The reason the project was started is that better battery technology will change the world as we know it. Renewable energy like solar and wind are not new, but the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. To completely replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, you need great battery technology –– technology that’s cheaper, longer lasting, and more energy dense than anything that exists today. As researchers continue to advance battery science, there will be no reason not to use renewable energy for 100% of our needs.

As a publicly funded research effort, the findings would be available to all. In fact, when announcing the Battery500 project the Department of Energy stated specifically that the goal was to get better technology into production by working closely with auto manufacturers and understanding their needs:

A key focus of the consortium is to ensure the technological solutions it develops meet the needs of automotive and battery manufacturers. Consortium members will work to ensure significant innovations can be quickly and seamlessly implemented by industry throughout the project.

Newswise

Battery500

So what is the goal for this new battery being developed? Well, the state of the art batteries you’ll find in production in a Tesla Model 3 today have an energy density of 160 watt-hours / kilogram. That means for every kg of weight, the battery has 160 Wh of capacity. The Battery500 project seeks to productionize a cell with an energy density of 500 Wh / kg. That’s more than 3 times the energy stored in today’s Tesla batteries, without increasing the weight at all.

Once this technology makes it into production, you’ll be able to buy a 1000 mile Model 3 or Model Y, and ranges on the Model S & X should be around 1200 miles. But it won’t just be Tesla –– imagine a world where ALL electric vehicles have this kind of range. Imagine a world where the average electric vehicle user charges their car 10 times a year –– less than once a month.

Sounds pretty great, right? But since the project started in 2017, we haven’t heard much news. But now “we can officially talk about it”, tweeted researcher Shirley Meng:

Project Update

So now, let’s dig into the update on the Department of Energy website together:

Launched in 2017, the Battery500 Consortium is a multi-institution program working to develop next-generation Li-metal anode cells delivering up to 500 Wh/kg. The Battery500 team is composed of world-class scientists and engineers from four National Laboratories and five universities. Notably, two of the researchers on the team, Professor Stanley Whittingham of Binghamton University and Professor John Goodenough of the University of Texas at Austin, received the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work in Li-ion batteries.

Energy.gov

Interesting that lithium-ion legend John Goodenough is working in Austin. This is total speculation, but I wonder if proximity to his research team has anything to do with Tesla’s recent flirtations with expanding their presence in Austin. The partners in the Battery 500 consortium are pictured below:

In the first two years of this program, the Consortium has made significant progress developing novel cell materials and integrating these materials in industry relevant pouch cells. At the beginning of the program, a Li-metal pouch cell delivered 300 Wh/kg but only cycled approximately 10 times. Currently, the team has increased that energy density to 350 Wh/kg and extended the cycle life to more than 350 cycles. Specifically, they developed new electrolytes with enhanced stability against Li-metal, optimized the use of thick cathodes against a thin lithium foil, and applied cell-stack pressure to extend cycling life.

Energy.gov

Holy shit! 350 Wh / kg?! If true, the Battery500 team has demonstrated a relatively stable lithium ion cell with more than double the energy density of the technology in production today. This would mean an 800 mile Model S, and a 700 mile Model 3 that weighed no more than the existing models.

Granted, there’s a big difference between getting something working in a lab and actually starting mass production of a new cell chemistry. While cell life seems to have improved substantially in the past two years, there’s still a lot of work to do. 350 cycles is not going to cut it. The 10 cycles they got 2 years ago is a complete joke for production, even though it may provide valuable insights for researchers.

The battery technology Tesla is mass producing today is designed for a minimum of at least 1500 cycles. that means you could fully charge and discharge it everyday for 5 years and it would still hold a charge pretty well after taking that beating. Since most people only charge their electric car once or twice a week, a typical user will get 300,000 – 500,000 miles out of a Tesla battery that’s for sale today. Tesla’s next generation batteries going into production this year will be designed to handle several thousand charge cycles, with lifespans well over a million miles.

While this research is promising, there’s a lot more work to do before EVs with a 1000+ mile range are common, and last for decades. For now, the progress of the researchers gives us a good peek at the future that’s in store for humanity once this technology matures.

Recent research on even thicker cathodes and more stable electrolytes shows a path to a 500 Wh/kg cell. Current focuses include increasing rate capability and extending cycle life.

Energy.gov

This is huge news. Battery500 researchers say they “have a path” to 500 Wh / kg. The economic implications of these developments could not be more profound. Researchers say they can find a way to triple the capacity of your electric vehicle battery pack without increasing weight at all. Wow. Just wow.

Going forward, the researchers will continue to work on increasing energy density to the 500 Wh / kg mark, extending cycle life, and improving charge rate capability to enable ultra-fast charging. Exciting stuff!

Is this better than Tesla’s new battery?

These are two very different things. The batteries Tesla is mass producing today don’t have specs that sound as impressive, but they’re battle tested and durable across all kinds of weather conditions and charging regimes. These new battery technologies show that we can mass produce much more energy dense cells in the future, but it’ll take a lot of work to make sure they’re better than the old cells in every way.

As for the new Maxwell / Tesla cell batteries that we’re going to hear about on Battery Day, it’s hard to know what they’re going to talk about before they announce it. But I would imagine Tesla’s relationship with this project is more cooperative than competitive. Given their focus on “the needs of automakers” I wouldn’t be surprised if Tesla and Battery500 researchers have been working together or sharing information. Gali touches on this in his latest Hyperchange video:

Conclusion

Is it Battery Day yet?!?!?! Come on Elon, you’re killing us here!!!

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