What you see above might be the ugliest Tesla Motors vehicle ever. Any 4-year-old can draw a box with wheels and, frankly, we expect more from Franz von Holzhausen. But, upon closer inspection, we don't find Franz's name attached to this drawing. Instead, this is the work of Tesla CTO JB Straubel and his team, so we're going to have to cut them some slack. Especially since what this drawing shows is potentially game-changing.

You see, the image comes from a US patent titled "Electric vehicle extended range hybrid battery pack system," that Tesla originally filed December 8, 2010 and was granted June 25, 2013. The abstract explains:

A power source comprised of a first battery pack (e.g., a non-metal-air battery pack) and a second battery pack (e.g., a metal-air battery pack) is provided, wherein the second battery pack is only used as required by the state-of-charge (SOC) of the first battery pack or as a result of the user selecting an extended range mode of operation. Minimizing use of the second battery pack prevents it from undergoing unnecessary, and potentially lifetime limiting, charge cycles. The second battery pack may be used to charge the first battery pack or used in combination with the first battery pack to supply operational power to the electric vehicle.

You can read the whole thing in the included gallery but, put simply, what Tesla is proposing is an electric-electric hybrid system that uses two different battery types to create an EV with tremendous range. The lithium-ion battery (or whatever chemistry works best by the time this sees the light of day) would be there to provide electric performance most of the time while the metal-air pack helps move the car on long-distance drives. This makes sense because metal-air batteries have high energy density but low power density, so they're well-suited for long hauls.

Tesla is not alone in looking for unusual alternatives to today's alternatives. Toyota, for example, has been looking at next-gen solid state batteries and thinks they could arrive around 2020. IBM, too, is working on lithium-air batteries and says they could offer a 500-mile range in an otherwise regular EV. Think of all these efforts as a fight for the Sakichi prize.


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  • 16 Comments
      Anderlan
      • 1 Year Ago
      This is pretty cool and like other electric drivetrain hacks makes me think of hardware design and OS resource management. Tesla see high energy/mass, high energy/volume cells but with the 'showstopping' disadvantage of having fewer than 1000 cycles. They don't see it as a showstopper, though. They see that if the advantages are really good enough, they outweigh the disadvantages. That is, long distance trips are uncommon, a small percentage of total miles driven, for a large part of the market. So, a super-dense but stunted-lifetime battery can work inside a larger system. Just as computers have many different types of memory with different tradeoffs for each, integrated into a system that works well together to provide competent service.
        SublimeKnight
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Anderlan
        It does follow similar paradigms of tiered computer storage: Cache (expensive but very fast) / Super-capacitors (extremely expensive, virtually unlimited cycle life and power density) Memory (slower, but still very responsive and much cheaper) / Li-ion batteries (relatively cheap, decent cycle life and power density) Drives (slower, but high storage and dirt cheap vs capacity) / Metal-Air (low power density, cheap high energy density, horrific cycle life)
      Tysto
      • 1 Year Ago
      I haven't looked at the whole thing but the article's description makes it seem like an awfully broad patent. And Phinergy already demonstrated a car with a Li-ion pack and an Al-air battery. As for replacement cost, aluminum is selling at 80 cents a pound and the Phinergy 1000-mile pack only weighed 55 pounds, so you're talking maybe 65 bucks retail, which is half the cost of gasoline per mile.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Tysto
        It would be nice if the patent were a little more specific. All this seems to do is prevent anyone else from using two different battery types in the same car. Actually, it pretty much exactly how a fuel cell/battery hybrid would be laid out: the fuel cell running at a constant load, with the li-ion picking up the peaks and troughs.
          JakeY
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          @chanonissan I read the patent directly and am directly referring to the patent, not the article. And the patent specifies no mode where the metal-air pack runs at constant load. I thought people have realized by now you can't depend on the article summary to get the details right, but I guess not, given all the downvotes. I suggest everyone go read the actual patent (it's linked as a source).
          JakeY
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          Actually no. The Tesla patent is fundamentally different from a fuel cell hybrid because it serves to minimize the use of the metal-air pack, while with the fuel cell hybrid you have no choice (all energy originates from the fuel cell, so running it at constant load is ideal). The patent actually doesn't specify the metal-air battery directly powering anything, but rather using it to charge the non-metal-air battery when the non-metal-air battery's SOC falls below a certain point. It has more in common with plug-in hybrids. And it also specifies a rechargeable metal-air battery (so not the single use aluminum-air battery in the news recently).
          chanonissan
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          JakeY read back carefully what letstakeawalk is saying. The article said the battery pack would work in combination to give operational power if needed. What he say he is correct, they are quite similar.
      EVnerdGene
      • 1 Year Ago
      1991 APS electric car had zinc-air pack in parallel with a ni-cad pack. non-obvious ? FAIL - rule #1 of patentability. "patent early, patent often" patent office - allow almost anything to be patented then let the lawyers fight it out most excellent mess we've made of the patent system Excellent job USPTO.
      Dave D
      • 1 Year Ago
      GEEZ!!! Come on, man....you can't patent something that obvious that has been done dozens of times!!! Hell, I've seen arm-chair quarterbacks on this forum come up with this idea independently in discussions dozens of times over the last 5 years. When the hell are we going to get control of the USPTO? I'm going to patent breathing! That's right and all you biotches owe me money. So pay up or stop breathing! Hell, I'm sure the USPTO would grant me the patent so why not. I'll file one for breathing normally, one for breathing through your mouth, one for breathing through your nose, one for breathing in slow, deep breaths and one for quick shallow breaths.
      m_2012
      • 1 Year Ago
      A smaller, supplementary back that gets put in the "frunk"? I wouldnt put it past them to have this as an accessory that is backwards compatible with existing cars.
      bluepongo1
      • 1 Year Ago
      Imagine what Tesla Motors could do if they were a too big to fail 100 year old company that has the govermedia pay for their R&D. BTW where are all the trolls who say they're over-valued, going bankrupt, and repeat what talking heads tell them ? ( Besides the ABG writers who repeat misinformation.) While we're on the subject of patents ABG should look into the composite body structure patent ( that Tesla Motors used from day 1 which pre-dates the false narratives about TM ) that Lotus doesn't have the tech or permission to use. @LTAW the patent isn't more specific due to the US patent system's patent troll problem.
        bluepongo1
        • 1 Year Ago
        @bluepongo1
        Same grudge down-votes same 3 libelous troll tears LOL !!!! :-D
      Paul
      • 1 Year Ago
      Probably based on aluminum air batteries: http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/151801-aluminium-air-battery-can-power-electric-vehicles-for-1000-miles-will-come-to-production-cars-in-2017 Unfortunately these "batteries" need to be replaced regularly because the aluminum is converted to aluminum oxide. Aluminum requires a lot of energy to make so replacing these batteries is likely to be expensive.
        SublimeKnight
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Paul
        The cost per mile is roughly that of a gasoline in a 30mpg car. Seems like a great trade off to me. 95% of driving done via battery power with a 100-200 mile range and capable of long range driving at a cost comparable to gasoline.
        Chris M
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Paul
        The article also mentioned zinc air and lithium air and sodium air batteries, too. Those versions also produce a metal oxide, and zinc air currently must be replaced as it isn't rechargeable either. Efforts are underway to make rechargeable versions of all those batteries, but even if that fails, they could still be used as a range extender, then replaced and recycled. All 4 of those metal air batteries offer astounding energy density. Tesla is not certain which one will win out, which is why the patent mentions the general category "metal air" instead of a specific type.
      Spec
      • 1 Year Ago
      LOL at financial analysts analyzing patents. They understand neither the technology nor patent law.
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