February 21, 2024
Elon Musk says prototypes are straightforward, manufacturing is hell. And on the subject of the long-awaited Cybertruck, Tesla‘s hell is its pioneering 4680 battery.Tesla delivered the primary of its futuristic stainless steel-plated electrical pickups final month and CEO Musk mentioned in October that it could in all probability hit an annual manufacturing charge of 1 / 4 of 1,000,000 autos in some unspecified time in the future throughout 2025.

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However Tesla remains to be a good distance off that form of manufacturing tempo, and one of many primary bottlenecks is the pace it will probably make the 4680 batteries used within the Cybertruck with its new dry-coating know-how, 9 folks conversant in the matter mentioned.

Tesla’s Giga Texas manufacturing unit is at present churning out 4680 battery cells at charge solely enough to energy about 24,000 Cybertrucks a yr, or a few tenth of the required output, in response to Reuters calculations based mostly on a mixture of public information and unpublished figures offered by sources.Having the ability to ramp up battery output massively by dry-coating electrodes – somewhat than utilizing the slower, extra expensive wet-coating – was a key issue behind Tesla’s forecasts in 2020 that it could greater than halve battery prices, lower funding considerably, and create smaller, greener factories.

The 9 folks, who spoke to Reuters on situation of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, mentioned Tesla had but to crack dry-coating on the industrial scale wanted to make 4680 batteries quick sufficient to hit its manufacturing targets.

Uncover the tales of your curiosity

The folks mentioned dry-coating the anode within the 4680 cells was not problematic however Tesla was fighting the identical approach for the cathode – the most costly part in a battery. Dry-coating anodes and cathodes is confirmed within the laboratory, in addition to for smaller power storage gadgets equivalent to tremendous capacitors, and even some small batteries, in response to Yuan Gao, a battery know-how advisor.

“However nobody has executed it to date for big EV batteries at a mass scale and at a excessive sufficient pace. Tesla is the primary one to attempt to commercialize this,” mentioned Gao, who has labored within the business for 3 many years.

“The problem is that not solely does Tesla must scale it up and pace up the method, it additionally should develop its personal tools and instruments. It’s formidable to say the least,” he mentioned.

Tesla didn’t reply to detailed questions from Reuters for this story.

Cracking the code

In keeping with three of the sources, the 4680 batteries in Cybertrucks embrace an estimated 1,360 particular person cells.

Which means Tesla would wish to make 340 million cells a yr, or nearly 1,000,000 a day, to provide 250,000 of the electrical pickups, that are coming into a sizzling market with rivals equivalent to Ford’s F-150 Lightning, Rivian’s R1T and an electrical Hummer from Basic Motors.

For the time being, Tesla’s Austin manufacturing unit takes about 16 weeks to make 10 million 4680 cells, in response to Reuters calculations based mostly on figures from Tesla, verified by the three sources.

That interprets to 32.5 million cells a yr, or sufficient for slightly below 24,000 pickups – and that’s just for the Cybertruck.

Tesla additionally needs to make use of 4680 batteries to energy different autos, most notably the $25,000 small automobile the corporate is scrambling to launch by the mid-2020s.

Tesla has some restricted manufacturing capability for 4680 cells in Fremont, California however its plant there may be primarily for pilot manufacturing. Panasonic, one in all Tesla’s long-standing battery suppliers, is planning to construct at the very least two vegetation in america however has solely simply damaged floor on the primary.

Two of the 9 folks conversant in the matter consider Tesla’s progress with scaling up 4680 manufacturing will possible acquire steam, particularly as soon as it achieves stability with the manufacturing know-how on one manufacturing line.

They mentioned Tesla had been specializing in establishing sturdy know-how to provide batteries with out flaws first time spherical. It’s a time-consuming course of however, “when you crack the code and set up stability, it’s like exponential”, one in all them mentioned.

“Pace would choose up. There may be already numerous traction in dry coating,” the individual mentioned.

Tesla’s battery tsar Drew Baglino mentioned in October that the corporate was now producing 4680 cells on two manufacturing traces in Austin and plans to put in a complete of eight traces there in two phases, with the final 4 resulting from be operating in late 2024.

Nonetheless, one of many two folks mentioned replicating established know-how from one manufacturing line to the following is not any cakewalk.

The supply mentioned solely about 5% of cells made on worthwhile manufacturing traces are ditched however scrap charges might shoot as much as 30%-50% and hover there for a number of months as every new line will get going.

One of many sources mentioned Tesla’s dry-coating technique for cathodes was not proving to be any sooner than the outdated moist course of, although scrap charges had dropped to as little as 10% to twenty%.

Baglino didn’t reply to requests for remark for this story.

‘Gooey mess’

The sources mentioned Tesla was struggling to combine the cathode supplies, which embrace lithium, manganese and nickel, with a binder and stick them to a metallic foil to provide a cathode – with out utilizing moisture.

Two of the folks mentioned the method labored for small quantities however when Tesla tried to scale it up, numerous warmth was generated and this melted the binder, which one of many sources believed was polytetrafluoroethylene, extra generally generally known as Teflon.

“In the event you soften the glue, fairly quickly every part will turn into one huge chunk of gooey mess,” one other of the sources mentioned.

Equally problematic for Tesla are the machines used to coat the metallic foil to provide battery electrodes – tools which is akin to large journal and newspaper printing machines with massive rollers, the sources mentioned.

To speed up cell manufacturing, Tesla is making an attempt to coat a number of strips of magnetic foil with energetic battery supplies on the similar time, and at excessive speeds.

That calls for big, huge rollers, in addition to making use of super drive to press the supplies onto the foil. However as a result of the rollers are massive and huge, making use of strain evenly is proving to be a problem, the sources mentioned.

And when strain just isn’t utilized evenly, Tesla will get electrodes with uneven surfaces and thickness, which aren’t any use for its battery cells and must be scrapped, the sources mentioned.

Maybe extra problematic, Tesla’s Baglino advised a hearth chat at a battery convention in March that Tesla was nonetheless constructing a very new high quality verification system so they may weed out cells with flaws in coating.

One of many sources with information of the matter, mentioned particularly it was about constructing information infrastructure round Tesla’s battery growth, manufacturing and in-field use as a result of in some circumstances the issues have been hidden within the coating and didn’t present up for a number of months down the highway.

In different phrases, Tesla doesn’t fairly know but which dry cells are good, and which of them must be junked, the supply mentioned.