Tesla Battery Day: A new form factor, the Roadrunner line, and what to expect

(Credit: Tesla)

Tesla’s Battery Day is coming tomorrow after the electric car maker’s 2020 Annual Shareholder Meeting. During the event, Tesla is expected to discuss the details of its next-generation battery cells, as well as their role in the world’s acceleration in sustainable energy. Actual details about Battery Day have been pretty scarce save for a few potential leaks, but that has not stopped the Tesla community from speculating about what the highly-anticipated event would involve. 

A concise summary of the current expectations for Battery Day was recently shared by Tesla Daily’s Rob Maurer, who compiled a list of topics that the electric car maker could cover during the event. Following then is a list of expectations about what Tesla could discuss tomorrow, as the company finally shows the world what it has been working on with regards to its battery technology. 

A New Cell Design 

Tesla has been teasing that it would be going into the production of battery cells. So far, leaks suggest that the company is about to adopt a larger form factor for its batteries, similar to how Tesla introduced the 2170 cells for the Model 3, which were larger than the 18650 cells used in the Model S and Model X. Leaks have pointed to Tesla’s new cells possibly adopting a 54×98 form factor, which has about 10x the volume of a 2170 cell. 

With larger form factors, the electrons and the ions travel larger distances as they move around in the cell, generating more friction and heat. This is a huge downside to larger cells, but Tesla’s tabless battery patent may hold the key to solving this issue. With a tabless battery cell design, the distance traveled by electrons and ions is largely reduced, limiting the disadvantages inherent among large cells. Such a design has several advantages, including better energy density and a more efficient manufacturing process. 

Battery Chemistry

Speculations are abounding that Tesla may discuss the amount of silicon that it is using in the anode of its next-generation cells. The more silicon that is used, the better the energy density. However, the utilization of silicon usually results in cracked anodes over time, reducing battery performance and life. Introducing more silicon into the anode is something that battery researchers have been attempting to accomplish for a while now, so it would be quite interesting if the electric car maker would announce some headway into its silicon use as well. 

Tesla may also discuss Maxwell’s technology and how it is being used for the company’s electric cars and energy storage devices. Maxwell has developed numerous innovations prior to its acquisition by Tesla, though the most relevant part of the company’s work in relation to the electric car maker is arguably its dry battery electrode tech. Considering that traditional lithium-ion batteries produce their electrodes in a wet slurry format (a rather lengthy process), dry electrode technology could vastly improve not only the energy density of Tesla’s cells, they could improve the production output of the batteries themselves as well. 

Cell-to-Pack Innovations

Tesla’s battery packs today feature cells that are packed into modules that are then packed into a battery pack. Back in the days of the original Roadster, battery modules were used as a means for the company to take out parts of the battery that may need to be replaced without taking out the entire pack. That was 12 years ago, however, and much has happened since then. Tesla has transitioned from a budding niche electric car maker to the manufacturer of the market’s best-selling EVs. 

As Elon Musk noted in the past, battery modules today are pretty much just an extra step, taking up weight without really serving a legitimate purpose. Musk then stated that the future is cell to pack without modules, suggesting that the company’s next-generation batteries will be using a cell-to-pack design. Such an innovation gives numerous benefits to Tesla, from lower production costs to possibly even better energy density. 

Battery Manufacturing and the Roadrunner Line

Elon Musk has always been pretty transparent about Tesla’s mission, which is to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy. Having enough batteries to enable such a transition is key to this goal. With this in mind, the potential innovations that Tesla will be discussing in Battery Day — a larger form factor that would allow the company to produce fewer cells to get the same amount of energy; a tabless cell design that could make production easier; dry electrode tech that could greatly increase the production capacity density of each battery; and a cell-to-pack design that should allow the production of batteries with less equipment at less cost — could ultimately pave the way for electric vehicles and energy storage products that are significantly better than the industry standard today. 

The Roadrunner project in Fremont is expected to be a central component of Tesla’s battery manufacturing plans, with attendees to the event being shown just how fast the company could produce its battery cells using its in-house production process. Elon Musk seems to be hyping the Roadrunner line recently on Twitter as well, when he made references to a game called “Factorio,” which happens to be a title focused on growing and maintaining advanced, efficient factories. 

The Million-Mile Battery 

The million-mile battery has been heavily speculated for Battery Day. Tesla’s electric cars are already capable of lasting long despite heavy use, but with batteries and powertrains that could last a million miles, the company could create a generation of vehicles that are designed to be always operational for an extended period of time. Million-mile batteries are then crucial for Tesla’s plans to roll out a Robotaxi service, which involves vehicles traveling long distances every year. 

The Plaid Powertrain

With Tesla’s battery innovations in mind, speculations are high that the company would unveil its first vehicles that would carry its next-generation cells on Battery Day. Among Tesla’s ongoing projects, the Roadrunner cells seem to be a perfect match for cars like the Plaid Model S, Plaid Model X, and next-generation Roadster. All three vehicles have been confirmed by Elon Musk to feature the company’s upcoming “Plaid Powertrain,” which is something that has been heavily teased for some time now. Interestingly enough, updates on Tesla’s Plaid vehicles have been pretty scarce lately, making an announcement on Battery Day somewhat likely. 

Watch Rob Maurer’s full Tesla Battery Day predictions in the video below. 

Simon Alvarez: Simon is a reporter with a passion for electric cars and clean energy. Fascinated by the world envisioned by Elon Musk, he hopes to make it to Mars (at least as a tourist) someday.
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