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Tesla to Expand Battery R&D Unit

“Roadrunner” design promises lower cost, more power, longer life
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Tesla plans to crank up its own in-house battery development team.

The electric car company already operates an experimental battery R&D facility at its vehicle assembly plant in Fremont, Calif. The complex also has a small battery assembly area.

Image: Tesla

What Tesla has in mind is an expansion of those operations that would employ 470 people, Reuters reports, citing a local construction permit application. Some 400 of those staffers would be deployed in shifts such that 100 are working at manufacturing and production at any time day or night.

Beep Beep

The project, dubbed Roadrunner, appears to be a unit being set up to help launch a new variant of the lithium-ion batteries used by Tesla and most other EV makers today.

Reports last month cited Roadrunner as a code name to describe a battery design that promises greater energy density, far less need for costly cobalt and double the service life of current chemistries.

Tesla and researchers from Canada’s Dalhousie University patented the new chemistry last year. The carmaker also has been working with China’s CATL (Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd.) to commercialize the design.

News reports in May indicated that Tesla would announce the Roadrunner during a “Battery Day” presentation, which has since been tentatively scheduled for Sept. 15. Sources told Reuters at the time that the new battery would debut by early 2021 in the Model 3 sedans Tesla produces outside Shanghai for the Chinese market.

Slashing Battery Costs

The Roadrunner battery reportedly could lower battery costs to less than $80 per kilowatt-hour from more than $100 today, thereby making EVs comparable in cost to piston-powered vehicles.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s long-held goal is to cut EV battery costs by at least 30% simply by producing them at very high volumes. He also wants Tesla to eventually make its own battery cells.

Tesla gets most of the conventional batteries for its California-made EVs from the Gigafactory it operates outside Reno, Nev., with partner Panasonic. The company also has signed supply deals with CATL and South Korea’s LG Chem.

What It Means

Many carmakers are pursuing next-generation batteries with the lower cost and more power they need to propel EV sales into the mainstream. Tesla appears determined to get there first.

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