2012 Tesla Model S
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Tesla Motors chief Elon Musk is on a crusade to, among other things, rid drivers of the need to consume liquid fuel for their automotive transportation. Sounds easy, right? But it's the lithium-ion battery cell supply situation that's another story altogether. See, Tesla is ramping up production of its all-electric Model S to possibly 40,000 units by next year and will follow that up with the introduction of the Model X SUV and a yet-to-be-named cheaper (by comparison) model. Given these trends, Tesla may be buying as many of its type of battery cells as the rest of the computer industry combined by 2017, Green Car Reports estimates.

Granted, there are a fair amount of "ifs" here, as doubling Model S production and sales next year isn't guaranteed, nor is getting the new models out on schedule. That said, the Model S's 85-kWh battery does gobble up battery cells in large chunks. Indeed, GCR did the math and found that the approximately 14,000 Model S vehicles sold since its introduction contain as many kWh worth of lithium-ion packs as all of the 71,000 Nissan Leafs sold around the world since late 2010 combined, although the Tesla uses smaller cells than the Nissan. With such supply requirements, Tesla has turned battery supplier Panasonic's second-quarter 2012 loss into a second-quarter 2013 profit and may need to reach supply agreements with Samsung to meet further demand. Read the details over at Green Car Reports.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 30 Comments
      • 2 Years Ago
      This headline is NOT ACCURATE by a long shot. Tesla uses Li Ion 18650 type cells for structural integrity; they're cylindrical and resemble beefy AAs. The "computer industry" has mostly moved from 18650 to flat-pack style cells because they're easier to fit in a laptop. So yes, Tesla may use more 18650 cells than go into laptops, but that's because not many laptops use 18650 cells anymore.
        methos1999
        • 2 Years Ago
        True, but fact is some computers still use 18650s, and computers are made globally by the millions, not thousands - so the point remains that Tesla is on track to use more 18650s than the entire computer industry, and that is a hell of a lot of batteries.
        JakeY
        • 2 Years Ago
        Laptops still use mainly cylindrical cells (including some of the ultrabooks, although they tend to use 16650). If you look the author's source data, the polymer cells are not predicted to overtake cylindrical cells until 2014 (and that includes usage by tablets). So cylindrical cells will remain the king in the computer industry and Tesla will be on track to use more than the computer industry's demand. http://www.energytrend.com/price/20130506-5180.html
          Aaron
          • 2 Years Ago
          @JakeY
          Almost all ultrabooks (and the MacBook AIr which ultrabooks were patterned after, as well as all Mac laptops) use pouch-type cells to better fit the cramped confines. https://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&q=macbook%20air%20battery&tbs=imgo:1&biw=1179&bih=717&sei=ZdwrUvbSJ4GLqwGj9YD4BQ
          JakeY
          • 2 Years Ago
          @JakeY
          @Aaron Yes, ultrabooks tend to use prismatics/polymer. What I mean is that there are those that don't and those use 16650. http://www.tomshardware.com/news/intel-ultrabook-battery-lithium-ion-cells,15723.html
      Technoir
      • 2 Years Ago
      That's incredible. I hope this will lead to more investments toward battery technology.
      Smoking_dude
      • 2 Years Ago
      Finally a decent purpose for all those batteries ;) with each 7000 cells a tesla gobbels, the prices go down. and if panasonic cranks up the volume and tesla churns out more cars, this is really getting interesting. I have no doubt about the ifs. Tesla can even convince german autmomotive journalists ;)
      Dave D
      • 2 Years Ago
      To me, the question is when will larger format batteries, used by all the other EVs, build up enough economies of scale to make their prices start dropping as more makers jump into the fray.
        Val
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dave D
        They will start dropping alright, but will probably never go as low as the 18650.
      RC
      • 2 Years Ago
      Well, the mobile computing industry has been driving up the efficiency by using ultra low powered processors such as ARM and Haswell, as well as more efficient AMOLED screens, and even software tricks to curve power consumption. This in response to the lack of innovation in batteries. Tesla is pretty much stuck with the pace at which batteries innovate.
        JakeY
        • 2 Years Ago
        @RC
        There's innovation alright, just not anywhere near the same pace as the increasing speeds (and power requirements) of CPUs. And almost all those low power processors tend to be used in devices that use prismatic cells, which still have a ways to go to catch up with the density of cylindrical cells (like those used by Tesla).
          RC
          • 2 Years Ago
          @JakeY
          You'd be surprised, there is currently a trend for servers to use ARM (given they don't really use batteries) and powerful laptops like the Mac Book Airs have migrated to Haswell aiming for longer battery life.
          JakeY
          • 2 Years Ago
          @JakeY
          @RC The use in servers is probably to reduce power and cooling demand (big operating cost drivers). MacBook Airs use prismatic cells (like I point out). The 2013 11 inch model improved from 7.9oz for 35Wh to 8.08oz for 38.75Wh (7.6V, 5.1Ah), an 8.2% improvement (which is still quite far from the doubling every two years for processor speed). http://appleinsider.com/articles/13/06/14/teardown-of-apples-new-11-macbook-air-finds-smaller-ssd-module-tweaked-battery 4 cylindrical cells similar to what Tesla uses would weigh less and provide more energy: (3.6V*3.35Ah*4 = 48.24Wh, 47.5g*4 = 190g = 6.7oz) http://industrial.panasonic.com/www-cgi/jvcr13pz.cgi?E+BA+3+ACI4002+NCR-18650B+7+EU The only issue with cylindrical cells is the form factor is not a good fit for thin or very small devices, which is why tablets and ultrabooks tend to use prismatic cells.
      Warren
      • 2 Years Ago
      Or you could build 85-170 electric bicycles with the batteries for one Tesla. Going electric, without changing the kinds of vehicles we "need" is not going to have an appreciable effect.
      Grendal
      • 2 Years Ago
      When the Gen III/Model E shows up then it will get interesting. Those cars will take up 10X the current battery demand of just the Model S. "We're going to need a bigger factory." The Panasonic executive says after seeing the ravenous demand for the Tesla cars.
        EZEE
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Grendal
        You're going to need a bigger boat...
      noevfud
      • 2 Years Ago
      Old news. Regurgitated late headlines as usual:) $20.00 a post.
      Baldur Norddahl
      • 2 Years Ago
      The article is just a lot of speculation. Never the less it is inevitable that the EV industry will overtake the laptop industry as the main consumer of batteries. Currently Tesla might be largest single consumer of batteries. But will they still be that in 10 years? Only if they are still one of the largest EV producers. If and when EV really takes off, we will need batteries for ten or hundred million of cars each year. The amount used for the Model S will be truly dwarfed.
      lad
      • 2 Years Ago
      The reason Tesla uses so many cells is because the energy density of the current cell are about 1.50 kwh/kg; The JCESR project at Argonne Labs is expecting to increase the density about five times this current base. The results will be cheaper batteries with less cells for the same energy level; less weight for Teslas and I suspect a different more densely packed battery form factor.
        2 wheeled menace
        • 2 Years Ago
        @lad
        Actually it's more like 200-250whr/kg AFAIK. 150whr/kg is what i have in my hobbyking RC Lipos. They're using high density panasonic cells.
      2 wheeled menace
      • 2 Years Ago
      You know what that means. It means that they can truly call the shots as to which type of cells get to produce, rather than piggybacking off of whatever the laptop industry wants. Instead of using laptop cells, laptops will be using car cells ;)
        Val
        • 2 Years Ago
        @2 wheeled menace
        But Elon Musk considers 18650 a superior form factor to large prismatic cells, so any change is very, very unlikely. The cells are easier to cool, provide structural integrity, and, what he specifically said in the last conference call, one of the biggest reasons for the price advantage of 18650 is the yields, similar to semiconductors, if electrode processing fails, they only need to discard a small piece of it, not 1/50th of the whole pack.
          JakeY
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Val
          @jeff Actually, what you see in terms of thermal advantage in large prismatic cells are primarily due to chemistry, not form factor. I'll take a guess and say the cells you are talking about are LiFePO4 cells, which is well known for being less volatile, lower internal resistance, better thermal performance than Cobalt based cells (like those used by Tesla). Plus don't forget the Boeing incident, which used large format prismatic cells of the Cobalt variety. A large 180Ah prismatic is roughly 180x70x280mm with 3.53L of volume. This gives it 2x180x280 = 0.1 square meters of heat dissipation surface (only the two large faces are practical for adding cooling plates). You can even throw in the other two smaller surfaces (2x80x280) = 0.045 square meters for a total of 0.145 square meters. The smaller 18650 (18mm diameter, 65mm length) simply have a larger heat dissipation area for a given volume. It has 0.01654L of volume, 0.003676 square meters (counting only the sides of the cylinder, not the caps). For the same 3.53L of volume there's 0.78 square meters of heat dissipation surface, 5-8x of that of the large prismatic! As for the larger charging currents, that's all down to C-rate and chemistry. A 180Ah cell discharged at 300A is 1.67C. That can be routinely done even for cobalt based 18650s. Most LFP cells can do even better (no matter the format).
          jeff
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Val
          The ONLY reason Elon prefers the 18650 is they have a higher energy density. That is rapidly changing. That is due primarily to the chemistry and not really the form factor. The large prismatics (Different chemistry) do have some desirable advantages. 1) They simply to do not heat up as much when charged or discharges. The Larger prismatic 180Ahr cells just don't heat up. The higher terminal temp I have ever seen is 4 degrees above ambient... 2) The lager cells can take much higher charging currents. You could easily charge the one in my car at 300 amps without any significant temp rise...(Proven by actual experiments). I suspect Tesla would change if the energy density achieves parity...
          2 wheeled menace
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Val
          Jeff, you are right. It's not the form factor - it's just that the highest energy density cells have been designed with laptops and other small devices in mind. You can pack that chemistry into a 26650 or maybe even a pouch cell if you wanted. 1) But - large pouch cells do produce equivalent heat for equivalent amounts of internal resistance given X amount of load. You are disregarding C rates. I can show you a pouch cell that will explode into flames at a continuous 1C discharge, and one of the same size that will happily go from 100% SOC to 0% SOC at 60C continuous. Same with a cylindrical cell. What would destroy an 18650PD would produce absolutely no notable heat and just a tiny voltage dip in an A123 cylindrical cell :) 2) Not necessarily, you need to factor C rate into the equation again.
      Letstakeawalk
      • 2 Years Ago
      Yeah, well, laptops are declining in popularity as tablets overtake PC sales.
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Letstakeawalk
        Uh . . . but tablets use batteries too.
          methos1999
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          as mentioned by another poster, tablets and cell phones do not use cylindrical cells - they use prismatic cells.
          Spec
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          Tesla will most likely use prismatic cells by that time too.
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