On October 27, Tesla announced it was switching to LFP batteries for all of its standard Model Y and Model 3 line-up cars. The news was contained in the company’s third quarter earnings report. The company started using LFP batteries in the 3 models made in China last year. Apparently Tesla is happy with the outcome and will now use lithium iron phosphate chemistry for all standard range cars around the world. It also now uses LFP battery cells in its grid-scale energy storage products.
LFP battery cells cost less mainly because they don’t depend on scarce and somewhat expensive raw materials like cobalt and nickel. Tesla Chief Financial Officer Zach Kirkhorn said during Wednesday’s earnings call that the company had recently seen price impacts for nickel and aluminum.
One of the main reasons that LFP batteries are not often seen outside of China is related to a series of key LFP patents, which have allowed the country to dominate the LFP market. But those patents will soon expire. Company officials say Tesla intends to bring LFP battery production to the same locations where it manufactures its vehicles. We know he is planning a battery factory near his new factory in Grünheide, Germany, for example, as well as his gigafactory under construction in Texas.
“Our goal is to locate all key vehicle parts on the continent – at least the continent, if not closer, to where the vehicles are produced,” said Drew Baglino, senior vice president of engineering at powertrain and energy at Tesla, when the earnings call. “This is our goal. We work internally with our suppliers to achieve this, and not just at the final assembly level, but as early as possible.
The company also provided a very brief, and slight coverage, update to its 4680 battery, a custom cell design that it created in-house. Tesla said the 4680 battery will be capable of higher energy density and longer range. Baglino said the 4680 is on track to be delivered to vehicles early next year, with structural testing and validation on schedule. But while the company is happy with the schedule, “this is a new architecture and unknown unknowns may still exist,” he added. “From an airframe perspective, we’re comfortable with the design maturity and build readiness to match the pack schedule I just mentioned. “
The Washington Post enthusiastically endorsed Tesla’s switch to LFP batteries, calling it a “clever, prescient and realistic move.” On the one hand, it’s not just cheaper batteries; they are more secure and readily available. This means that even if they don’t take Tesla’s several hundred miles on a single charge, they will drive the company towards greater sales and, ultimately, wider adoption of greener vehicles. A Tesla Model 3 on these lithium iron-phosphate power supplies, or LFPs, can still travel 468 kilometers (290 miles). It’s really not such a short distance – these batteries will get the job done.
The newspaper adds, “These batteries help solve the perennial problems and compromises with electric cars – the range over safety, size over energy density. That’s why automakers and their battery suppliers have been caught up with a type of battery made from nickel, manganese, and cobalt, which are more energy dense but have yet to prove to be the safest. They tend to be unstable and can ignite. In addition, they are expensive because the raw materials are largely scarce. “
Tesla apparently decided that the disadvantages of LFP batteries were outweighed by the advantages – particularly a lower price, greater resistance to thermal runaway, and greater availability of raw materials. The data is not yet complete, but longer battery life may also be part of the equation.
There is a lesson here for these other companies, the Washington Post said. “To keep the big and bold promises of electrification of the fleet, they had better take a realistic path. For now, they’ve been concerned with using less pragmatic batteries that have, in some cases, caught fire and resulted in multi-billion dollar recalls. Bragging about the best car with the longest range that will come out in a year or two is hardly a sign of success. Instead, delivering a pretty good electric car today – sure enough – would show that a company is on the right track. This is what businesses need to become real. The latest battery technology is not the ultimate solution to electric car racing. Better get off the sideline and go for it.
We discussed it while drinking spritzers around the foyer on the top floor of CleanTechnica world headquarters the other day and we couldn’t agree more. The days of supercars capable of running the Kessel in less than 12 parsecs are over. What we need are cars that are good enough that ordinary people can drive them every day. Tesla may very well have stolen a march on the competition – again.
On a related note read this CleanTechnica September 2020 article: Tesla Battery Day: Has Elon Musk ever ‘leaked’ battery technology that will drive the electric vehicle revolution?
Do you appreciate the originality of CleanTechnica? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Technician or Ambassador – or Patreon Patron.
Got a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise or suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.