Unlike most of its competitors and contemporaries that chose to manufacture their own batteries, Tesla chose to strike a partnership with Japanese electronics giant Panasonic for its first electric car, the Roadster. Panasonic provided it with the lithium ion battery cells which the company then assembled and bundled with its proprietary software, mechanical enclosure, and thermal management system to form the Roadster’s battery pack.
This partnership proved to be so successful that it caught the eyes of industry giants Toyota and Daimler who initially invested in $50 million worth of stock in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Both companies also had a hand in the development of the Model S and its lithium ion battery. Their investments came at a time when Tesla Motors just released the Roadster and was in need of additional funding. They not only poured money to the EV manufacturer they also provided their own professionals to help (as well as to learn from) the company’s research. Both went on to contract Tesla to supply parts (powertrains and batteries, just to name a few) for their own cars (Toyota’s RAV4 EV and the Mercedes B-class EV).
Lithium Ion Technology
Thanks to its battery technology, Tesla Motors has ensured its survival in an industry/niche where others have failed (yes, we’re looking at you Fisker Automotive). But how does its lithium ion battery work? It wouldn’t be surprising if you thought that you’ve heard of (or seen) the term lithium ion technology or battery somewhere. That’s because it’s the same battery technology used on laptops and cellphones. Lithium ions are ferried by an electrolyte from the negative to positive electrodes of these batteries to generate electricity/power. A typical Tesla Model S electric car makes use of hundreds of these lithium ion cells in its battery pack to provide it with enough power to cover 300 (more or less) miles. To ensure the battery pack doesn’t overheat, Tesla has it enclosed in a metal case with a liquid cooling system coming in between the lithium ion cells to quickly dissipate heat.
How Far Can You Go With Tesla’s Lithium Ion Battery?
Its powertrain is what makes the Tesla Model S such a powerful electric car. This houses the three phase AC induction motor, gear boxes, drive inverters, and the lithium ion battery pack controlled by 75 kWH (or 80 kWH depending on the specific model) microprocessor. With 300 miles to a single full charge, the Model S’ battery is currently tops all other EVs past and present. However, the best thing about this electric car’s battery though is the fact that it charges quickly (if you’re using a Supercharger). In less than 20 minutes, you can have half of the battery’s power replenished. 100-150 miles for a 20-minute charge is not bad at all considering most EVs need a couple of hours or even multiple charges to get the same mileage.
What’s in Store for the Future?
The future is looking bright for Tesla Motors. Its decision to partner with Panasonic to create a battery Gigafactory in Nevada ensures that it can capitalize on the expected demand for electric vehicles in the next 3 to 5 years. Making their battery technology patents available for other companies in the industry to use is also a move calculated to drum up more demand for their batteries. Also, the company just recently announced the Powerwall, a solar-powered energy solution that promises to power your home day and night. With all that it’s doing now, it does seem that Tesla is poised to become the leading EV and lithium ion battery manufacturer by 2020 (the year its Gigafactory is set to start production).
For now though, all eyes are trained on how buyers will react to the Model S, the up-coming Model X, and the Powerwall.
Gordon's expertise in the area of industrial energy efficiency and alternative energy. He is an experienced electrical engineer with a Masters degree in Alternative Energy technology. He is the co-founder of several renewable energy media sites including Solar Thermal Magazine.