Tesla has snapped up an important battery patent for just $3, but it is seemingly part of a startup acquisition up in Canada.
During Tesla’s Battery Day last year, the automaker unveiled several new improvements in battery technology to deliver cheaper, cleaner battery cells with higher energy density and longevity.
One of the problems Tesla wanted to solve is water usage in creating battery cathode and the cost associated with the process.
Tesla’s head of engineering, Drew Baglino, described the problem:
“Effectively, if you start at the left and you have the metal from the mine, the first thing that happens is the metal from the mine is changed into an intermediate thing called a metal sulfate, because that just happens to be what chemists wanted a long time ago. And then when you’re making the cathode you have to take this intermediate thing called the metal sulfate fate, add chemicals, add a whole bunch of water, a whole bunch of stuff happens in the middle, and at the end you get that little bit of cathode and a whole bunch of wastewater and byproducts.”
Here’s the slide he is referencing when talking about “at the left”:
Baglino says that Tesla, instead, has a way to recirculate the water:
“As you can see, a whole lot less is going on here. We get rid of the intermediate, metal, water, final product cathode, recirculate the water, no wastewater at all. And when you summarize all of that it’s a 66% reduction in CapEx investment, a 76 reduction in process costs and zero wastewater. Much more scalable solution.”
Here’s the slide of the Tesla cathode process from the Battery Day presentation:
Now, we learned that Tesla might have actually acquired this technology from a Canadian startup.
Mark Harris uncovered a document that showed Tesla acquired a patent for technology very similar to what Tesla described above from a company called Springpower International based in Ontario Canada.
The document showed that Tesla took over the patent for just $3, but a more plausible explanation would be that Tesla acquired the Canadian company.
Springpower took down its website and doesn’t appear to have any public facing presence anymore.
Neither Tesla nor Springpower commented on the possible transaction, but Electrek has found two former Springpower employees who are now listing positions at Tesla on their LinkedIn.
Amrit Bhogan was a chemical technologist at Springpower, and now he is listing his positing as a Cell Engineering Technician at Tesla.
Yang Liu was a chemical researcher at Springpower, and like Bhogan, he left for Tesla in September 2020, which also happens to be when Tesla held its Battery Day presentation, and he is now a Senior Research Engineer at the automaker.
While it’s not fully confirmed, it looks very likely that Tesla acquired this company.
It wouldn’t be the first time that Tesla quietly acquired a Canadian company.
Tesla previously acquired Hibar, which makes battery production machines, and the company also invested in Jeff Dahn’s battery lab in Canada to finance his battery research.
The good news is that Springpower apparently already had pilot production of its cathode technology, which potentially helped Tesla’s timeline to bring the 4680 battery cell to production.
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