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Elon Musk on Tesla/Panasonic’s new 2170 battery cell: ‘highest energy density cell in the world…that is also the cheapest’


Despite likely being Tesla’s most important fundamental product developed so far, we know very little about the new 2170 battery cell to be manufactured at the Gigafactory in Nevada. Tesla and its manufacturing partner, Panasonic, are keeping a lid on the details.

Last night, Tesla CEO Elon Musk made a bold claim [I know, shocker] about the new cell that will be the foundation for much of Tesla’s product line over much of the next decade. During a conference call with analysts yesterday, he said that the battery cell is the “best and cheapest in the world”.

Musk made the comment when discussing Tesla’s growing partnership with Panasonic. He talked about both the battery cell at what he is now referring to as the “battery Gigafactory” and the solar cell to be manufactured at SolarCity’s Buffalo plant, which could technically also be called a “Gigafactory” since it has a planned output of 1 gigawatt/year.

“Everything is going very well at the battery Gigafactory and we believe quite strongly that SolarCity’s technology on the Silevo front added to Panasonic ‘s cell technology will make it the most efficient and ultimately the cheapest solar cell in the world – just as it is with the battery cell. We have the best cell in the world that is also the cheapest cell.

Note the present tense when discussing the battery cell. Battery cell production is expected to start any day now at the Gigafactory in order to support the new Tesla Energy products announced last week.

The specs of the new Powerwall 2 and Powerpack 2 are in line with Musk’s claims about the cell since Tesla was able to double the energy density of the pack versus the first generation by using the new cells. Though some of the improvements might have happened at the pack level.

Later in the call, Musk clarified that by “best battery cell in the world” he was referring to the “best energy density in the world.”

It is a bold claim since we are talking about a cell that could end up on the market within the next 2 months. People will be able to test and verify that claim very soon.

Typically, it’s one or the other. You have either the best and most energy dense cell which is expensive to manufacture or the cheapest, but Musk is now saying that the new 2170 battery cell developed by both Tesla and Panasonic is the both the best and cheapest battery cell in the world. Certainly the “cheap” part will be helped by economies of scale – the Gigafactory at its full capacity will be producing more lithium battery capacity than the current output of the world combined.

Tesla’s current custom 18650 battery cells produced by Panasonic are estimated to have an energy density of ~250 Wh/kg and the cost is variable (depending on energy density use case – Powerwalls and Tesla auto use cases currently have different energy densities and are unknown. A Tesla official said earlier this year that the cost of its battery pack was “less than $190 per kWh”, which would indicate that the cells are about $100 to $150 per kWh depending on the battery pack level cost.

It will be interesting to see how the new 2170 cell compares to those specs. We should know more in the coming weeks as production starts at the Gigafactory.

Featured Image: 2170 cell by Jude Burger at Gigafactory event – July 2016

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