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The Tesla Advanced Battery Research division, which formed in 2016, partnered with Dalhousie University in Canada to come up with a nickel-based battery that offers far greater longevity compared to batteries currently used in electric vehicles.
Tesla currently manufactures and uses a type of lithium-ion battery called lithium iron phosphate (LFP), which offers high energy density that allows a longer ranger between charges.
The nickel-based alternative described by the researchers is theoretically able to overcome the energy density and durability limitations of this type of battery, while offering a vastly improved life cycle.
A paper detailing the research, titled ‘Li[Ni0.5Mn0.3Co0.2]O2 as a Superior Alternative to LiFePO4 for Long-Lived Low Voltage Li-Ion Cells’, was published in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society.
The mission to build an ultra-long lasting battery could ultimately reduce manufacturing costs and significantly reduce the footprint of the electric vehicle industry.
Batteries in current Tesla models are estimated to last for around 200,000 miles, or 20+ years, before charge capacity begins to drop by more than 20 per cent.
By building a battery that can outlast the life of the car itself, it could be reused in new models, maybe even several-times over.
“Excellent lifetime at high temperature is demonstrated with electrolytes that contain lithium bis(flurosulonyl)mide (LiFSl) salt, well beyond those provided by conventional LiPF6 electrolytes,” the paper states.
“NMC cells, particularly those balanced and charged to 3.8V, show better coulombic efficiency, less capacity fade and higher energy density compared to LFP cells and are projected to yield lifetimes approaching a century at 25C.”
Tesla CEO Elon Musk had been expected to announce a “million-mile battery” at the company’s Battery Day event in September 2020, though instead a plan was unveiled to switch from cobalt to nickel over the next decade.
While this improves sustainability and reduces questions over the ethical sourcing of cobalt, it also offered an insight into the direction of battery development that Tesla researchers are now taking.