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Elon Musk hints at new battery breakthrough on the horizon

We rarely cover claims of “battery breakthroughs” because it’s extremely difficult to distinguish what has real potential and what is simply PR fluff.

No one has been harder on those claims than Elon Musk, but now Tesla’s CEO himself tentatively hints a promising upcoming battery breakthrough on the horizon.

He prefaced this with his usual swipe at battery breakthrough claims.

Musk said during a conference call with analysts yesterday:

“Oh, God. Ok, here’s my opinion of the battery breakthrough of the week of battery breakthrough du jour. When somebody has like some great claim that they’ve got this awesome battery, you know what? Send us a sample. Or if you don’t trust us, send it to an independent lab where the parameters can be verified. Otherwise, STF (like meant STFU). Yes. So everything works on PowerPoint. If you like, I’ll give you a PowerPoint presentation about teleportation to the Andromeda Galaxy.”

As the world biggest consumers of lithium-ion batteries, Tesla is in a unique position to have access to the latest technology that battery scientists are trying to bring to production.

Tesla previously disclosed that they often receive battery samples and track hundreds of battery research programs to which they assign points based on potential. Previously, CTO JB Straubel, who leads battery development at Tesla, said that very few programs have substantial potential.

One of the most recent battery breakthrough claims that received a lot of attention was a new solid-state battery technology developed by John Goodenough, who is credited as the co-inventor of the li-ion battery cell.

On the same conference call with analysts yesterday, Straubel said that they have been testing some of the latest solid-state battery cells without specifically talking about Goodenough:

“More specifically on the solid-state batteries.  We’ve talked to a number of different groups that are researching this and we actually have tested a number of those very early prototype single cells. But we don’t yet see anything that changes our strategy.”

But Musk quickly followed about something that he found promising, but they apparently can’t share the details:

“There are some breakthroughs that I think are achievable. They’re confidential, so I can’t talk about them on this call, but there’s one particular avenue that I am confident could be made to work that would be the most significant breakthrough in a while. But again, you’ve got to make it work in the lab. It doesn’t yet work in the lab now, but it’s promising in the lab.”

After making it work in the lab, they would have to make it work at “moderate production levels” and then move to “high production levels” to optimize the cost. Musk said that it’s still several years away.

In the meantime, Tesla is trying to improve on current li-ion battery cell technology. Tesla battery researcher Jeff Dahn has been talking recently about significant improvements to the lifecycle of li-ion batteries, but it’s not clear when those improvements will make it into Tesla’s cells.

Electrek’s Take

While battery breakthroughs are alluring, they are not actually needed to achieve the battery cost and capacity for all cars to go electric. The incremental improvements to li-ion batteries that we have seen over the years are believed to be enough to soon be competitive with internal combustion engines before the cost of operation or incentives.

Nonetheless, breakthroughs or other battery cell technologies could be necessary to electrify other modes of transport, like air transport for example.

What’s your favorite new potential battery breakthrough? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Avatar for Fred Lambert Fred Lambert

Fred is the Editor in Chief and Main Writer at Electrek.

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