Tesla Researcher Shows 100-Year, 4-Million Mile Battery

The biggest concern about EVs are the high cost of replacing the batteries after a few years. Your smartphone battery will likely have seen better days in as little as three year. After demonstrating that batteries could outlive the majority of human beings, a Tesla researcher is now ready to bring this idea to life.

Most Tesla fans will have heard of Jeff Dahn. He is a professor at Dalhousie University, and has been a research partner for Tesla since 2016. His goal has been to improve the energy density and life expectancy of lithium-ion battery, as well as reduce their cost. Dahn and his colleagues appear to have landed on the motherload. The group published a paper in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society. It claims that they have developed a battery design that can last up to 100 years if the right conditions are met.

Dahn’s paper contrasts cells based on Li[Ni0.5Mn0.3Co0.2]O2 chemistry (“NMC 532”) to LiFePO4. This is the “Lithium iron phosphate” (aka LFP), chemistry Tesla uses in its Model 3 standard-built cars from China. LFP has a lower energy density than the more popular Lithium Ion options, but it is also cheaper, more durable and safer. LFP can withstand up to 12,000 charge/discharge cycles so it is not difficult to beat it. Dahn’s NMC532 cells did not lose capacity after almost 2,000 cycles. This paper extrapolates this to indicate a 100 year lifespan (they clearly haven’t been testing it that long).

Dahn also gave a keynote speech in March at an international battery seminar in Orlando. He talked about a “4 million-mile battery”. These were some of the key findings from the paper before its publication this month. Dahn had promised the “million-mile battery”, and has been testing cells using his modified chemistry since October 2017. They have seen only 5% degradation after 4.5 years of continuous cycling at ambient temperature. They could run an electric vehicle for up to 4 million miles before they need to be replaced.

The switch from single-crystal to polycrystalline cathodes is one of the main reasons for their longevity. They don’t disintegrate so quickly during the charge-discharge cycle. Dahn’s NMC 532 chemistry contrasts with LG Chem’s NMC 811 chemistry, which contains eight parts nickel for each part of cobalt and manganese. The Tesla Model Y moved from NMC-811 to LG Chem’s NCMA chemistry cells (aka “high nickel”). Although these are more expensive than NMC 811 or LFP, they offer the best density and longest range. The majority of NCMA chemistry’s cathodes are nickel (89%), but it uses cobalt, mannese, and aluminiu.

Dahn’s NMC 532 chemical, which he has been testing, promises another leap in battery technology. Cars don’t have to last 100 years and they don’t need 4 million miles. The average American vehicle age is 12 years driving 14,000 miles per annum, the lifetime driving distance of an American car is 168,000, while it is much lower in Europe. In reality, 4-million-mile batteries will be able to enable vehicle-to-grid applications, which will increase charge-discharge cycle rates. They are most likely to be useful for static energy storage in homes and grid buffering capacity from intermittent renewable sources.

Many hydrogen enthusiasts argue that batteries are a temporary solution until Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) and hydrogen storage systems become mainstream. Despite all the progress in hydrogen technology, it is likely that hydrogen will not be available in sufficient quantities to make transportation possible. Together with lithium-sulfur developments like Theion, and ultrarapid charging technology like StoreDot’s technologies, Dahn’s work will ensure that batteries solve all of their problems in a matter of years.

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