Tesla Motors has officially announced it will build a massive electric vehicle battery factory, which it calls a gigafactory, to make a huge amount of cheaper lithium-ion pack for the EVs of the future. It says these packs are so important that it is working on plans for a gigafactory in two locations, just to make sure there is a Plan B if something goes wrong with Site A. But how many gigafactories could there one day be?

According to Musk's vision, expressed at the World Energy Innovation Forum held at the Tesla Factory in Fremont this week (where he also said that using the Lotus Elise as the basis for the Tesla Roadster was not the best idea), the auto industry will one day need hundreds of battery gigafactories. Now, that's not hundreds of Tesla gigafactories, but he thinks there will need to be 200 just to supply the automotive industry. Throw in stationary energy storage and iPads that run all year, and the number climbs even higher.

One benefit of all these cells coming to market will be cheaper electric vehicles. Originally, Tesla said that its gigafactory would be able to reduce the per-kWh cost of a Tesla battery pack by "more than 30 percent." Musk repeated that number at the Forum this week, saying, "I think we can probably do better than 30 percent." The groundbreaking of the first Tesla plant could take place next month.

Oh, and as a side note: doesn't Michigan look odd in the image above? We are one with the lake, apparently.


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  • 30 Comments
      Rotation
      • 7 Months Ago
      I'm sure they can do 30% better easily. Tesla will switch to large format cells and save a bundle like everyone else. The only impediment is Musk's current claim that small cells are better and safer. Once he aligns his story with reality, the road will be clear for denser, cheaper packs in Teslas.
        Grendal
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Rotation
        I have to hope the electrical engineers and battery technicians that work for Tesla know which way to go. I saw a chart that said costs for smaller cells are killing large format cells and will continue to do so for another 10 to 15 years. At that point costs will be close to equal with small format cells. Elon has said that the best size to work with for Tesla would be a cell that is about twice as big as the 18650 format. It all depends on what the newest battery chemistry needs and calls for though.
        JakeY
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Rotation
        @Rotation "I'm sure they can do 30% better easily. Tesla will switch to large format cells and save a bundle like everyone else." Are you sure everyone is "saving a bundle" with large format cells? From all the analysis out there, the large format cells others are using right now still cost more per kWh than what Tesla is using. As for small cells being safer, it's pretty much true. You rarely see the higher density cobalt based chemistries use the larger prismatic format because the smaller cylindrical format is simply better at heat dissipation (more heat dissipation surface area and the format necessarily creates empty space between cells). The surface area to volume ratio goes down as you increase the size of the cell. For example, the 18650 size Tesla uses right now has a ratio of 0.253, while it drops down to 0.185 for the 26650 format. @Spec They aren't really that attached to the 18650 format, it's just that the most energy dense cells in existence (currently Panasonic's NCR line-up) exists only in that format. As Grendal mentions, Elon has said that the most optimal size is something about twice the size of the 18650 format (probably talking about the 26650 format), so I'm sure they'll switch when it makes sense (maybe even for their planned giga-factory).
          Rotation
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          I am saying no one really knows what a contract price is. But you do know that large format packs contain less materials, so they will be cheaper to make. That will generally influence the contract price downward. Water has a huge effectiveness. Far more than enough to cool batteries in a street EV. In the end, the rate of heat extraction is related to the thermal conductivity, the temperature differential of the medium (i.e. the rate the coolant moves) and the surface area. Since water has 20x the thermal conductivity of air and its easier to move it, the change in surface area due to using large cells is not a problem. Especially since, as I mention, you can always alter the shape. Look at Tesla's cylindrical cells. Making one twice as long would very nearly double the surface area, only the area of the circles of the ends of the cylinder is lost (the double-length cylinder has still only 2 ends, not 4 as two cells would have). Further out of harm's way means further back in the car. Not only do most accidents occur at the front, but collisions with roadway objects occur at the front too. Tesla's comment about "pole vaulting"? That is very unlikely to occur in the rear. Making the pack more dense will allow it to be higher up or further back in the car, reducing the chance of intrusion by foreign objects. If nothing else, making the pack smaller gives it a smaller chance of being subject to intrusion regardless of location simply because it is statistically less likely to be hit by any given intrusion. Height is just one of 3 dimensions. If the cell is too "tall" then rotate it 90 degrees and it isn't. You just can't have a shape which is too large in all 3 dimensions. You didn't need to mention anything about containment. I already mentioned it. 'A pack that doesn't get hit can be safer even if when hit the damage can't be controlled as well.' Damage control is likely less effective than simply reducing the chances of intrusion in the first place. Tesla has shown this by example, because despite their wider cell spacing and relatively small number of cars on the road they have had the most pack fires, more than Nissan or GM. I never implied larger cells are better ay everything. I know I wrote a lot of text, I guess you missed some of it. They are denser, cheaper (to make), cheaper (to install/use), lighter and smaller per unit energy than smaller cells. These attributes also mean you may be able to use them in a system in a way that makes them less likely to be damaged by external objects. In the end, I'm pretty confident that larger cells make the most sense. And when Tesla has the opportunity to use them in a system designed for them, they will.
          JakeY
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          @Rotation "And no analyst knows that Tesla is paying unless they have access to the figures. " So you are basically saying no one knows the real price of either type, which means that cost point can simply be dropped. "Water can take the heat away no problem" But water also only has a certain effectiveness. In the end, the rate of heat extraction is still directly related to surface area (and that's where that ratio comes in). "As to safer, see what I said above about armor. With large format those cells could be further out of harm's way." I do not follow this. Isn't "further out of harm's way" a function of pack design (and its layout in the car), and not the size of the cells? I don't see how flat prismatic cells (arranged in flat modules) are any more "out of the way" than small cylindrical cells (also arranged in flat modules). As for Nissan's "zero pack intrusion" that seems to have nothing to do with cell size, but rather the ride height, the way the drivers drive (there's been plenty of reports of Leaf owners driving at extremely slow speeds, haven't heard the same of Model S), the pack design (location, shielding, etc) and also a good deal of luck/chance. It seems you are mixing Tesla's car design with our discussion about cell size vs safety. As for the shape to adjust the surface to area ratio, yes, you can make some custom shapes, but there's really only two that's easy to mass manufacture: the cylinder and the rectangular prism. The cylinder's surface to area ratio goes as (2(h+r)) / (rh), so whether you increase r (radius) or h (height) the number still gets smaller. For the rectangular prism it's similar with the formula as 2(lw+lh+wh)/lwh (l= length, w=width, h=height). Certainly you can play with which dimension to adjust to come up with an optimal number (although other design constraints will limit you; for example Tesla has a height limit because of their underfloor pack and vertical cell orientation), but the smaller cell will still be better at this metric. There's also something I forgot to mention, which is that smaller individual cells allow better containment in the case of cell failure (less energy in a cell). As for picking larger cells, Tesla will be doing that as a trade-off between heat dissipation and active material density (the size Elon mentioned may be the "optimal" one for this). But I want to make clear that there is a trade-off (larger cells are not automatically better at everything as you are implying).
          Rotation
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          There's more than just cell cost. A bigger pack costs more because it's bigger. And it means more carrying structure and it stretches too close to the front of the car, risking penetration from debris leading to even more extra costs. And no analyst knows that Tesla is paying unless they have access to the figures. Contract prices are totally different from spot prices. Surface area to volume does go down as you make the cells bigger. But this is only really an issue with air cooling. Water can take the heat away no problem, and with fewer cells, you don't need as many water passages to surround them all. As to safer, see what I said above about armor. With large format those cells could be further out of harm's way. A pack that doesn't get hit can be safer even if when hit the damage can't be controlled as well. Nissan hasn't had problems with pack intrusion, despite more cars on the road than Tesla. No one has because they put their cells more out of harms way, mainly because they could. Large cells could make it possible for Tesla to also. I'm absolutely sure they will switch for the next model after the X. Maybe only a bit larger as you say, more likely large format. The higher density of the chemistry is undercut by having so much more non-cell in there. So much more metal casing. So much spacing and cooling (more than needed). @Grendal: I agree exactly with what you say. Panasonic may have a kick-butt chemistry, but there's nothing magic about the cell size. If you agree to buy 10M/year, they'll make the sausages any size you want. Tesla couldn't commit to huge volume before the S, because no one knew it would be this big a success. And the X isn't going to change the pack I don't think. But the next ground-up model, when they get a chance, they can ask for anything they want and they'll get it unless it's truly impossible.
          Grendal
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          If you're going to be building hundreds of thousands of cars and billions of the battery you intend to use then you should probably make it in the size you'd prefer. As long as it works the way they expect it to, I then expect Tesla to use whatever size they intend to use for the Gen III.
          Grendal
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          I suppose it all comes down to what the battery chemistry call for. Perhaps you get a more robust battery if it is smaller in size. It's into science that is far out of my knowledge base. I have to trust that Panasonic, Elon, and his electrical engineers know what will work best. Changing the subject slightly. Will they use the 18650's for the Gen III alpha mules? Or will Panasonic make 10K or so Gen III sized batteries (whatever size that might be) so they can be put into the alpha battery packs? My thinking would be if you're going to make the change, you make the change and start working with it as soon as possible.
          Rotation
          • 7 Months Ago
          @JakeY
          Oh, and come to think of it, the surface area to volume ratio only goes down if the shape remains the same. If you need more surface area, make them longer instead of larger diameter. If you want square shapes, don't make cubes, make plates. You can adjust the surface area to volume ratio to be what you want. And all these configs get the value of the larger cells, which is reduced cell count, fewer interconnects and probably a more optimal density. I'm vert convinced Tesla will turn tail on this and go to large cells now that they are in the driver's seat with Panasonic and other suppliers.
        Jim1961
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Rotation
        When Tesla was producing Roadsters and planning to bring the Model S to market they probably didn't have enough capital to pay for custom cells. With the off-the-shelf commodity cells they saved money in the short run... and it worked out pretty well.
          Rotation
          • 7 Months Ago
          @Jim1961
          I agree. I think using those cells was a smart move at the time. Honestly, this is partly the chip on my shoulder about Musk talking, but part of my point here is Musk cannot stop himself from saying things like "we think small cells are better than large". http://www.plugincars.com/elon-musk-cool-confidence-about-teslas-future-109656.html He even said a few times that other companies (like GM and Nissan, the only other big players at the time) who used big cells were choosing an inferior design. He makes a smart decision and then something in his head makes him feel he has to make statements to back it up that don't really meet reality. Just say you're pack is great and don't waste time trying to discuss big or small cells at all. Say that you picked the best config for you or something.
        jeff
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Rotation
        The advantage of small cells is that a simple fuse wire can be used to seperate a shorted cell from the main pack. You can lose a few cells and never even notice the loss. If you get a shorted cell in a large format pack you must repair it immediately or risk damaging gne entire pack...
        Spec
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Rotation
        Yeah, I don't know. They seem kind of attached to that 18650 format. I don't understand it. Even if you like the cylindrical format, why not something a little bigger so you don't waste so much in container material.
      Aaron
      • 7 Months Ago
      Michigan was repossessed because of financial difficulties. The Great Lakes filled in the space where Michigan was.
        SloopJohnB
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Aaron
        No great loss. Although I'll miss Ann Arbor. Great chicks.
        Spec
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Aaron
        The lake has eaten up part of Wisconsin & Minnesota . . .. climate change? ;-)
      yoat
      • 7 Months Ago
      Before Elon begins breaking ground for his giga factory he should tune his antennas to this. http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1092056_dual-carbon-battery-same-energy-density-safer-longer-life-than-lithium-ion-says-power-japan-plus
        NestT
        • 7 Months Ago
        @yoat
        Tesla should evaluate all new battery proposals but.... Power Japan Plus does is not to be found in the Japanese media. PR in English but not in Japanese. No Japanese language website. Coupled with alleged far out technology this increasingly sounds like a scam.
          yoat
          • 7 Months Ago
          @NestT
          I don't know in which internet you were searching for info concerning Japan Power Plus but I've found plenty different references to JPP. As far as your reference to the causa language is concerned, I don't speak or understand Japanese so I rather welcome information available in English. I'd place their claim closer to a capacitor than an actual battery. The information that they have disclosed so far leads to the assumption that their carbon material is probably Graphene based. I suspect that their cell functions similar to an electrolyte capacitor rather than a conventional battery. As such it seems quite plausible and does not sound like a scam to me.
      GreenDriver
      • 7 Months Ago
      I've read that another benefit is that they can use energy cells instead of power cells and still get great performance due to the large cell count (over 7k in the S).
      SloopJohnB
      • 7 Months Ago
      Don't forget the mechanical engineers that have to figure out how to cool the damned things. Small cells have larger surface/volume area lim r=0(2/r) is infinite (stack the area/volume formulae for cylinders and ratio of surface area to volume becomes 2/r) so the smaller the cylinder the more surface area. By the same token the area/volume between cells which is where the coolant has to flow changes…you can get large coolant flows with larger cells, so somewhere between very small cells and very large cells there is an optimum size that allows adequate cooling, total energy density, and weight…the cells may be light but the coolant sure isn't!!!
      Spec
      • 7 Months Ago
      Maybe Michigan is being made fun of . . . it looks like a fat guy who is navel gazing . . . a good metaphor for the Big 3 automakers.
      Dave
      • 7 Months Ago
      "Through 2020, Tesla will directly invest around $2 billion in the plant and its partners will pony up another $2-3 billion for a total cost of $4-5 billion." http://green.autoblog.com/2014/02/26/tesla-gigafactory-capable-supplying-500000-evs-year/ "....he thinks there will need to be 200 just to supply the automotive industry..." 200 gigafactories X $4.5 billion = $900 billion.
        Timmy
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Dave
        Yeah, so? Less than three years worth of what we send overseas for petroleum. The U.S. should subsidize it (yes, with taxpayer money), and it would pay for itself in a year or two.
        SloopJohnB
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Dave
        I suspect the cost will go down for the next 199.
      Anderlan
      • 7 Months Ago
      "iPads that run all year" Wha?
        AlphaEdge
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Anderlan
        Just add some magical fairy dust to the battery mix, and voila!
      Dan Sturges
      • 7 Months Ago
      Might as well order up some gigaroads to go with it, since nobody seems too bothered Teslas run pretty much 75% empty everywhere.
        Aaron
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Dan Sturges
        Most vehicles on the road carry only one person, not just Teslas. Talk to all the pickup truck and SUV drivers who use their gas hogs as daily drivers before talking to Tesla owners.
        SloopJohnB
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Dan Sturges
        Umm…so do Porsches, BMWs, Corvettes, etc. In DC area I see a LOT of one-person Prius cars, especially on I95 HOV lanes where a lot of them are grandfathered (grand mothered?) into free use of the HOV-3 lanes.
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