Tesla ‘Roadrunner’ cell leak hints that Battery Day will be more insane than expected

Tesla Gigafactory Nevada battery cell production line (Credit: Super Factories)

Tesla’s Battery Day has been hyped so much that the event will have to include something truly amazing to live up to its expectations. In the lead up to the highly-anticipated event, a leaked image featuring what is supposedly a cell from Tesla’s “Roadrunner” line has emerged. And if the leak proves legitimate, it would appear that Battery Day will not only meet expectations — it will be even more insane than expected. 

The leaked image, which was initially published in a report on Electrek, featured a massive battery cell that was supposedly a product of the Roadrunner line. The publication noted that the image was sent through an anonymous source and confirmed by another independent source. From the get-go, it is evident that the cell is massive, closer in size to a supercapacitor than a traditional battery cell. Initial observations by battery enthusiasts online also point to some radical improvements that such a cell design would bring. 

While Electrek’s sources have mentioned that the Roadrunner cell will feature roughly double the diameter of the 2170 cells that the electric car maker currently uses in the Model 3 and Model Y, Tesla enthusiast @_BRCooper, who is familiar with battery tech, has observed that one of the leaked images had the number “054” printed on its side. If this number represents the cell’s diameter, it would point to Tesla’s Roadrunner cells adopting a 54×98 form factor, which has 10x the volume of a 2170 cell.

As noted by Jordan Giesige of The Limiting Factor channel on YouTube, adopting a 54×98 form factor for its next-generation cells has numerous implications for the entire battery manufacturing process and the performance of Tesla’s vehicles as a whole. With the larger cells, Tesla could produce battery packs that have an order of magnitude fewer cells than before. This would result in the company only using 1/10 the number of rolls, cans, electrolyte fills, and welds compared to its current operations. Such a strategy opens the doors to massive cost reductions that could help bring down the prices of electric cars to a notable degree. 

But regardless of its actual size, the design of the Roadrunner cell appears to be optimized and designed for a cell-to-pack drop-in setup. Interestingly enough, the leaked image of the Roadrunner cell seems to have a tabless electrode design, which Elon Musk has dubbed is “way more important than it sounds” last year. Provided that the Roadrunner cells are indeed inspired by Tesla’s tabless electrode patent, the new form factor could pave the way to more performance and further reductions in production costs. 

What’s even more notable is that these improvements become possible with just the Roadrunner cell’s new form factor and design. Giesige, for his part, has noted that with the Roadrunner cell’s design and potential 54×98 form factor alone, Tesla may be able to close in on 300 wh/kg before making any significant changes to its battery chemistry. Elon Musk actually mentioned a 30-40% improvement from 250 wh/kg back in 2018, which translates to an improvement to 325-350 wh/kg. Musk’s prediction was considered fantastical by critics then, but as Battery Day approaches and leaks start to emerge about the event, it is starting to look more and more likely that 325-350 wh/kg is feasible. 

Watch a feature on the Roadrunner battery cell leak 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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