What's inside a Tesla battery

Tesla: Researchers achieve breakthrough in batteries

New batteries are to replace lithium-ion batteries and finally increase the range of e-cars. But there has been a problem so far.

There are problems charging the lithium metal batteries. Canadian researchers are working with Tesla on a solution.

Photo: Peter Sieben

The researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada did not make it easy for the battery. They've even hit her with nails. But it may be worth it: The goal of their research could be a new generation of batteries that are considerably more powerful than lithium-ion batteries. That could not only revolutionize the e-car market.

But let's start from the beginning: The Canadian university has been working with Tesla on battery research since 2015 and wants to develop alternatives to the classic lithium-ion batteries that are still used by most electric car manufacturers.

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The head of the research team is none other than Jeff Dahn, who was already significantly involved in the development of lithium-ion technology. He and his colleagues are now working on lithium metal cells. According to an article published in Nature Energy magazine, the anode-free cells store 60% more energy per volume than conventional lithium-ion cells.

“Such a high energy density can increase the range of electric vehicles by around 280 kilometers,” it continues. With the batteries, even the operation of electric aircraft in the city, such as air taxis, is conceivable.

Lithium metal batteries don't last long

The problem: the batteries cannot withstand many charging cycles and have a high loss of capacity. Now the researchers have analyzed how exactly it happens that the batteries deteriorate so quickly and only last a few dozen charging cycles. With the help of electron microscopes, X-ray tomography and ultrasound, among other things, the scientists examined the batteries and even hammered nails into the batteries and measured the cell temperature.

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The realization: The electrolyte composition had to be adjusted. As a result, it was possible to significantly increase the durability of the lithium metal batteries, according to an abstract for the article. The batteries can now last 200 charging cycles - instead of 50. However, the researchers are still a long way from achieving their goal. 200 charging cycles is unlikely to satisfy potential e-car buyers.

It is unclear whether and when the lithium metal batteries will be used at Tesla. Most recently, Tesla boss Elon Musk had indicated that the car manufacturer may want to use cheap LFP cells in the future - at least in the cheapest model 3. With LFP technology, ranges of around 480 kilometers are possible.

Alternative to graphite anodes

Just recently, a group of researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory also achieved a breakthrough in battery research (read more here). In cooperation with Carnegie Mellon University, the scientists have developed new types of electrolytes. The problem with lithium metal anodes, which are supposed to help increase the range of electric cars as an alternative to the usual graphite anodes, lies in the so-called lithium dendrites. During charging and discharging cycles, more and more small tentacle-like defects form on the anodes, which increasingly damage the battery.

Research group achieves breakthrough with novel electrolytes

The Berkeley research group has developed novel electrolytes that do not have this problem. It is a group of soft and solid electrolytes made from both ceramics and polymers. This suppresses the nucleation of the dendrites before they continue to spread.

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A contribution from:

  • Peter Seven

    Peter Sieben is content manager and responsible editor for ingenieur.de. After an internship at the Funke media group, he worked as an editor and reporter in various departments. He writes about technology, research and career topics.