I’m sure by now, if you’re a fan of Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) you’ve heard of founder Elon Musk’s newest vehicle upgrade: the $10,000 battery that brings forth an ability called “Ludicrous Mode,” which enables a Model S to reach 60 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds.
Not only does this new battery break the 3-second barrier in car speed, but it signals another first for the Tesla Motors technology: it will have silicon in the battery anode.
You see, the chemistry of a lithium battery is very delicate. Musk has changed his view on some of that chemistry recently, switching from a hard support of nickel, cobalt, and aluminum (NCA) cathodes to the more popular mix of nickel, manganese, and cobalt (NMC).
This switch seemed to start with Tesla’s announcement of their Powerwall and Powerpack batteries, which would need a much larger range of power. Around the same time, Tesla announced a research deal with battery expert Jeff Dahn, signaling a new phase of battery experiments and expansions.
The next expansion seems to be silicon anodes. Graphite is the conventional anode material, but holds only one lithium atom for every six carbon atoms. Silicon can hold as much as 4.4 lithium atoms for every single silicon atom.
The problem is that with all those extra atoms in the mix, the silicon swells accordingly to about four times its original size, which can shatter the anode and kill the battery. Researchers estimate that the current battery mix Tesla is using may only include about 5% silicon because of this.
More experimentation must be done to successfully install a significant amount of silicon in the car batteries. But Tesla has the money, the expertise, and support of the public enough to keep moving forward.
And if they succeed, the need for lithium supplies to fill those silicon anodes will increase dramatically.
Venkat Srinivasan, scientist at Lawrence Berkeley Nation Lab says Tesla is “being aggressive. Much more than any other auto company.”
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Until next time,
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