Tesla’s new battery expert will do “whatever it takes” to improve battery performance

Battery expert Jeff Dahn inside the frunk of a red Model S

World renowned battery research Jeff Dahn will join forces with Tesla Motors on June 8. His mission is to do “whatever it takes” to improve the science behind the batteries Tesla relies on for its cars and energy storage devices.

Jeff Dahn is a world renowned battery researcher who teaches at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. According to the university’s website, he “is recognized as one of the pioneering developers of the lithium-ion battery that is now used worldwide in laptop computers and cell-phones. Dahn’s recent work has concentrated on the application of Combinatorial Materials Science methods to battery and fuel cell materials problems. He is the author of over 500 refereed journal papers and co-inventor of 58 inventions with patents issued or filed.”

Up until know, Dahn has been working exclusively doing research for 3M and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to develop longer-lasting, lower cost lithium-ion battery cells, but his agreement ends on June 7. On June 8, he will join forces with Tesla Motors and work exclusively for it. He says his mandate is to do “whatever it takes” to improve the company’s battery performance.

Dahn is a proponent of a different form of battery chemistry than Tesla currently uses. Called lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide, or NMC, it has lower capacity than lithium cobalt batteries but higher specific power and longer life, according to Battery University. Elon Musk has publicly ridiculed NMC chemistry. Tesla is firmly committed to lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide chemistry, or NCA.

Does hiring Dahn indicate that Tesla may be considering a shift in its core battery technology? Dahn told Quartz recently that his mission at Tesla is the same as every other battery researcher in the world — low cost, high energy density, and long battery life. But “whatever it takes,” an operational mantra he said he picked up in conversation with Kurt Kelty, Telsa’s battery director, will be his rule. “Those are the goals, and that’s how we’re going to do it,” Dahn said. “We’re open to anything that makes sense.”

A willingness to consider all possible options is a characteristic that defines Elon Musk. It’s astonishing that Musk and Tesla would consider options that challenge the battery technology they have been committed to for years, but if that’s what it takes to keep Tesla ahead of the competition, that’s what they are prepared to do.

Source: Quartz, Feature image via Jeff Dahn Research Group

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