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WSJ: Who’ll Name the Law for Electric Car Batteries?

Discussion in 'News' started by Larry Chanin, Mar 28, 2012.

  1. Larry Chanin

    Larry Chanin Model S Perf Sig 1055

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    From the Wall Street Journal blog, "Driver's Seat":

    Who’ll Name the Law for Electric Car Batteries?

    Larry
     
  2. Todd Burch

    Todd Burch Electron Pilot

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    I was just thinking the other day that it's a shame that batteries don't follow Moore's Law. If they did, we'd have our 1000 mile Model S in 2015...
     
  3. bonnie

    bonnie Oil is for sissies.

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    I'd love it if Tesla (or any battery maker) adopted Intel's tick tock methods for achieving Moore's law: Each 'tick' is an improvement in the manufacturing, each 'tock' is an improvement in the microarchitecture. Start with chip, pack twice as much on ... tick;. Start with chip that has twice as much on it, and reduce to half the size... tock.

    Start with the battery, pack in more range ... tick. Take that doubled range battery and reduce the size/weight... tock.

    It's worked well for Intel. And gives a great target for innovation.
     
  4. Tech26

    Tech26 Member

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    Thanks for sharing this. I knew batteries were getting better all the time, I just wasn't sure at what rate.
     
  5. mgemmell

    mgemmell Scottish chap

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    Here's my thoughts on this... (IMO perhaps the most important area of development in electric vehicles)...

    When there's money to be made getting more range per Kg of battery it is guaranteed the improvements will come, but you need an open marketplace.

    The best thing Tesla (and as many other electric car manufacturers as possible) can do to make this happen is create a competitive market for battery supply. The rate of improvement in range will be in direct proportion to the size of the battery market and its degree of openness.

    1) Openness:

    If the battery is a closed black box and each has its own secret connection and undisclosed interface to the PEM the market will be slow moving.

    If the battery is either
    a) built to a published specification that 3rd parties can comply with, or,
    b) built using standard sub-modules that can be replaced by 3rd party sub-modules,
    then the market will attract suppliers and the pace of improvement will be exponential (the challenge is how to ensure passenger safety and vehicle warranty when the most volatile part of the vehicle is from a 3rd party).

    Its hardly a new concept... The Windows API, the HTTP protocol, the GSM standard, The App store... how many open competitive markets have we seen in our lifetimes that have flourished and produced tremendous innovation and consumer benefit?

    Right now, I see the battery being treated as a competitive advantage and therefore a jealously guarded secret. It needs to be opened up and then let competition do the rest.

    I'm not saying we need the ISO standard for batteries... (no such thing existed for Integrated Circuits beyond TTL)... we just need to see 3rd parties being able to sell batteries to the biggest possible competitive market.

    2) Market Size:

    If the same battery stays in a new car from creation to destruction the market is as big as the new car market. If the car manufacturers use only one battery supplier then the market will be slow moving.

    If we replace batteries more often (BetterPlace etc.) then there is more of a marketplace. The market is bigger firstly because batteries must be stockpiled to cover replacement demand, and it is also fundamentally more open because the battery is being replaced by one from a generic pool rather than one from the vehicle manufacturer. The battery replacement business has to take responsibility for compliance and safety.

    The battery replacement businesses will shop for the best range, best life, lowest cost batteries. This is where the battery market will be most active and therefore where most battery innovation will happen. But will there be battery replacement or just one battery per car lifetime?

    Looking forward to feedback....
     
  6. Robert.Boston

    Robert.Boston Model S VIN P01536

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    @mgemmell: Interesting argument, but I'll respectfully disagree.

    The comparison to software standards isn't directly on point, inasmuch as these software platforms don't require the third-party apps to provide core functionality. If no one had written an app for the iPhone, the phone would still work just fine.

    The obvious comparison -- though one I'm about to refute -- is to consumer batteries. We have AA, AAA, AAAA, D, C, and other standards that let us buy batteries for gadgets separately from the gadget. You can buy cheap batteries for some applications, and high-performance batteries for other applications.

    But even that's not the best comparison. The car battery is a source of comparative advantage: the performance characteristics of the battery define the performance characteristics of the car (as we can see from the different specs for the different Model S batteries). Furthermore, car manufacturers will need different form factors for their different cars. Also, car batteries must be much more durable, and undergo much more rigorous testing, than almost any other consumer end-use product.

    The best comparison that I can think of is to jet engines. Boeing, Airbus, and the few other OEMs do not make their own engines. Airplane buyers select from a (very) short list of available engines made by Rolls Royce, GE, and a very few others. Each pairwise option has been thoroughly tested, and confidential information flows between the aircraft OEM and engine OEM.

    That business model is what we see emerging at Tesla. Tesla is becoming the Rolls Royce of BEV powertrains -- supplying automotive OEMs with the "jet engines" to make their chassis fly. (The unusual twist is that Tesla is also an automotive OEM, whereas Rolls does not make airplanes.) But I wouldn't expect to see Daimler or Toyota putting out RFPs with spec sheets of what they were looking for; there's simply too much proprietary, business sensitive information that the partners need to exchange for EV batteries/powertrains to be open-sourced.
     
  7. daniel

    daniel Active Member

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    On naming:

    Names for this sort of thing seldom arise by someone selecting a person to give the name. Stars, planets, comets, etc., are named according to certain rules set by professional astronomers' organizations. But "laws" like Murphy's Law, etc., come into use as they are accepted publicly. There is no formal naming process. Anybody that wants to could put a name out there, or hold a contest, or ask a public figure to make up a name, and maybe it will catch on, and maybe it won't.

    On promoting technological advance:

    This is a case where if you build a better mousetrap, people will beat a path to your door. It's the price of gas, not the "openness" of the architecture of existing EVs, that will drive the invention of better batteries. People know that if they can invent a better battery, Tesla and Nissan and the others will come to them. But there are fundamental differences between batteries and integrated circuits that affect the rate of improvement. An IC is like a mechanical apparatus, and all you need to do is make it smaller. A battery is a chemical apparatus, and physical improvements make only marginal differences. Significant improvement requires improvement in the chemistry itself, as for example from lead to nickel to lithium. An ultra-capacitor could be a game-changer, and people are working on it, but the obstacles are far from trivial and there's no telling when or even if a useable one will be developed.
     
  8. ESdude

    ESdude Member

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    I think there is a ring of truth in mgemmell's comment.

    One important thing Tesla should do is to increase number of suppliers of battery cells. Not do it in "winner gets all" manner. Do it like Apple sources displays for iPad. Like use Panasonic for 80% of cells, the rest from Sony or whatever. And vary that proportion depending on cells quality/cost. I think it's doable because Tesla plans to manufacture several types of batteries.

    It will keep Panasonic motivated. And it will keep them from becoming a monopoly (if Tesla will consume significant portion of the cell market)

    Such strategy will also avoid situation when, if worse comes to worse, Panasonic will have Tesla by the balls.
     
  9. Robert.Boston

    Robert.Boston Model S VIN P01536

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    I concur -- again to my airline/engine analogy, that desire to avoid being held hostage by a supplier is one reason why you don't see Boeing having an exclusive relationship with GE.

    If you read Tesla's 10-K closely, it appears that Tesla has not committed to use Panasonic cells in the Model X.
     
  10. 3lectronica

    3lectronica Member

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    From my talks with Tesla sales reps, and from what I have read online, Tesla does not use Panasonic cells exclusively.
     
  11. mgemmell

    mgemmell Scottish chap

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    Appreciate the responses...

    Fair point. Let's stick to HW. How about the IBM PC architecture then? The specifications for the PC allowed different components to be built by different manufacturers in a competitive market. The PSU is as vital in a PC as the battery is in the Model S, but, by opening up parts of the architecture, competitive market forces could bring down prices and raise performance. Compare the lively advances in the early PC hardware days to the progress Apple made pre-97. Many hardware manufacturers grew to billion dollar businesses on the backs of that competitive free-for-all (Dell, Gateway...) and the consumer benefited tremendously.

    Of course Tesla would not want to repeat the mistakes of IBM there (don't open it all up, or hand the SW over to a startup)! But instead of opening up the entire architecture they could expose just that part that would benefit from competitive market innovation forces. After all, Panasonic is the one making the cells, not Tesla. Why should they not publish the battery cell specs and allow them to be replaced inside the Tesla propriety battery pack?

    The capacity and power delivery of the battery pack will be a combination of the number of cells, the compounds of each cell, and perhaps also the battery pack internal circuitry and cooling system. Allowing the cells to be substituted for 3rd party cells would not affect the IP that Tesla own in the Battery pack.

    I have Radio controlled buggies that can run on NiMH or LiPo battery packs (with varying cell numbers) each of which delivers different range and performance, but the car manufacturer doesn't even sell the battery pack. The open market for such packs has brought excellent advances in performance even though this is a tiny niche market for battery manufacturers.

    (And *there* is a place where Electric has beaten ICE!)

    Agreed. This is perhaps why the idea of having the cells inside the battery pack exchangeable is the best idea of a way to build an open competitive marketplace.

    True, but car tyres are very important to car handling, braking and responsiveness. I think we'd all agree that the open market there has produced many advances and good price control. Brake pads too. Manufacturers do try to keep us buying the genuine original parts, but the open market for replaceable components is a reality and has benefited us all.

    Its a good comparison, but scale is everything. Given the scale of Tesla's Model S output (20k/year) and the novelty of the technology, I have to agree that it is similar to the aircraft business, just as the early days of ICs was a specialist arena for military and high-value applications.

    However I feel this thread is considering the need to obtain exponential advances in order to reach mass-market scale and volume just like Gordon Moore's Intel did when it broke out towards larger and larger scale.

    Therefore I would argue that while we could applaud a closed protected battery pack in order for Tesla to succeed at small scale with the Model S and X against specific competitors, we should consider encouraging the opening of some specification (perhaps the individual battery cell specification) in order to ferment some competitive innovation in this space.

    And all this from a European liberal! ;)
     
  12. ESdude

    ESdude Member

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    Actually they do use Panasonic cells exclusively (in manufacturing of their batteries).

    They do test all kinds of cells from all kinds of manufacturers but that's not the same thing.
     
  13. ElSupreme

    ElSupreme Model S 03182

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    I thought that that Panasonic won the bid to produce batteries for Y Model Ss over X years. But I am pretty sure they are not exclusive to Panasonic, it just happens to be everything they are doing right now is with Panasonic.

    There are plenty of benefits of sole sourcing something, and plenty of benefits of bidding out parts. At this stage I think the Aeroplane engine example is the best, and probably the correct strategy. You design your first generation plane (car) with GE (Panasonic) turbojet engines (battery cells), and develop a specification in the process. For the next production run you give Rolls-Royce (A123, whoever) the new specification and test with their turbojet engine (battery cells). If they meet the spec, and deliver in performance you can adopt their product.

    This example breaks down at the end. As a end consumer (Delta) I can specify whether or not I want RR or GE engines. I don't think having people choose their battery manufacturer pack would be something that would go over well with anyone. And if the two battery cells are ANY different then the resulting cars will be different so Tesla couldn't use both. So really Tesla has to single source their battery packs for each model and each generation. But changing mid production stream, or alternating cars would be a PR nightmare if some are better than others.

    If Tesla wants to dual source batteries they need to buy identical commodity cells. The problem with this is you don't get anywhere near cutting edge technology. You have to wait for all the manufacturers to come up with a new spec for the new commodity cell, then you have to have them all test their products to the spec. It takes time. With computers it works really well because you don't need anything close to the newest technology in your home PC. And they can improve things without changing the basic hardware footprints.
     
  14. dsm363

    dsm363 Roadster + Sig Model S

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    From what I understand, Tesla is not tied down to one battery (cell) maker or even a technology/form factor. They have a contract with Panasonic for 80,000 cars I think but it's not an exclusive contract. I believe all this is correct.
     
  15. stopcrazypp

    stopcrazypp Well-Known Member

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    From what I know Tesla does not have an exclusive contract with Panasonic. It's just that Panasonic happens to the make the most energy dense 18650 cell, so Tesla is using them for the 85kWh Model S. Tesla is free to use other suppliers (as Tesla has done with the Roadster).
     
  16. vfx

    vfx Well-Known Member

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    I suggest we name it: "Straubel's Law"
     
  17. Larry Chanin

    Larry Chanin Model S Perf Sig 1055

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    #17 Larry Chanin, Mar 29, 2012
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2012
    Yes, Tesla's only commitment is to purchase batteries for 80,000 cars over four years.

    Panasonic, Tesla rekindle romance, strike supply agreement for Model S batteries

    As Robert points out the 10-K makes it clear that they are not locked in to any vendor.



    Larry

     
  18. vfx

    vfx Well-Known Member

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    Thing is, no one has adopted a Tesla form factor. The Leaf and BMW are both close to skateboard design and Volt -Fisker are doing the tunnel placement. But all those shapes have big cell or flat pack forms in them. Nothing like the sea of 18650s spread out like Tesla does.
     
  19. VolkerP

    VolkerP EU Model S P-37

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    There is already a "low level" open form factor specification allowing to exchange battery manufacturers. It is the 18650 cell format. Tesla sources the 2400mAh cells from various manufacturers and they will go into the 40kWh and 60kWh Model S packs. Only the 85kWh calls for a cell with 3100mAh, here Panasonic is the first to supply these to Tesla. If a startup makes a similar cell with comparable price, Tesla surely would evaluate them and offer them a supply contract.
    The competition will not only be "better cell than XY" because there are many factors to balance. Cost, capacity, no of cycles, durability, you name it. There is a chance for a medium-end, low-price competitor to enter the market.
    To take mgemmells point further, competition would open in a really broad market if all EV manufacturers agree upon a "module" built from several cells. The module being something around 0.5kWh where the Nissan LEAF and the GM Volt would use ~48 in their packs and the Fisker Karma 40.

    WRT jet engines: the next generation of Turbojets will be developed and produced by "the engine alliance", a joint venture of Pratt &Whitney and General Electric. If there are only few suppliers left, there is big temptation to form a monopole and squeeze the remaining participants out of market via economics-of-scale. Good bye competition.

    In conclusion: It is in the best interest of Tesla and all the other EV manufacturers to agree on a "battery module" open platform standard, including electrical, control bus, and temperature control interfaces.
     
  20. stopcrazypp

    stopcrazypp Well-Known Member

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    #20 stopcrazypp, Mar 29, 2012
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2012
    I don't think that is necessary at all. Even at this point, with no real standardized module, it's not that difficult to have multiple suppliers at the same time. GM is using LG Chem for the Volt and A123 for the Spark. Ford is using LG Chem for the Focus EV, and Johnson Controls for the Transit Connect EV and various PHEVs. BMW is using SB LiMotive for the i-series and A123 for other PHEVs. Mitsubishi and Honda have deals with both GS Yuasa and Toshiba.

    I think most automakers are figuring out how not to put all their eggs into one battery supplier just fine.

    There's also companies that like to lock themselves into one supplier with a joint venture like Nissan and NEC for example.
     

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