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From IEEE Spectrum:
Finally the company’s lithium-ion batteries will start coming off the line. But will they juice Tesla’s fortunes?
Three years ago, Tesla Motors announced its plans to build the Gigafactory, a sprawling lithium-ion battery plant in the parched hills outside Sparks, Nev. Nothing remotely like it had ever been proposed. The Gigafactory, Tesla CEO Elon Musk proclaimed, would be the world’s biggest building by footprint, spanning 107 American football fields, and it would produce at least 35 gigawatt-hours of batteries per year—more than the entire global output of lithium batteries in 2013.
“It has to be big because the world is big,” Musk said last July. The Gigafactory would make batteries cheaper than ever before, which would in turn ramp up electric vehicle sales and meaningfully cut petroleum consumption everywhere.
The Gigafactory’s promise to push lithium batteries to unprecedented scale quickly became a symbol that clean energy could be big and powerful, and the very idea of it shifted the trajectories for both the automotive and energy-storage industries. Competing automakers doubled down on electric-vehicle development, while energy storage vendors scaled up battery production and slashed prices. According to the energy market research firm Navigant Research, Tesla’s push is a leading factor behind a projected 60 percent growth in sales of battery EVs in 2017.
The Gigafactory did all that without producing a single EV battery—a situation that’s about to change. Within the next several months, the first battery packs produced entirely in house are set to begin rolling off the assembly lines. By midyear, the plant will need to crank out 75 Li-ion cells per second for the Model 3, Tesla’s much-anticipated electric car for the masses. It will also need to ramp up production of Powerwalls and Powerpacks, the company’s energy-storage systems for homes and commercial and utility use. And to continue meeting orders, the battery plant must reach its 35-GWh annual capacity sometime next year. In short, 2017 is when the Gigafactory must swing from icon to efficient mass producer.
At press time, the Gigafactory was still a work in progress. Already, stationary storage units were being assembled there, but using imported battery cells. According to Tesla, the facility was on track to begin mass production by the end of 2016. However, a source at Panasonic, Tesla’s partner in the Gigafactory, told IEEE Spectrum that “by April” was the best they could guarantee.
Tesla has “a lot to prove,” says Mark Muro, who studies manufacturing as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C–based think tank. “They are attempting novel processes in short time frames and asserting that they can reinvent manufacturing along with everything else. They have a lot riding on this. These are huge gambles.”
Investing in battery manufacturing was an act of necessity for Tesla. While other automakers rely on pouch-shaped Li-ion cells specially designed for EVs, Tesla powered its first all-electric cars using the same cylindrical “18650” Li-ion cells employed in laptop batteries; it purchased those cells from Panasonic. That approach was fine so long as Tesla made only high-end EVs like the Model X and Model S. To be profitable, though, the company needs the mass-market US $35,000 Model 3, and it needs to produce at least a half-million cars per year. Battery vendors were unlikely to guarantee to supply batteries on that scale unless Tesla put some skin in the game, says Sam Abuelsamid, Navigant’s Detroit-based senior research analyst.
The Gigafactory did that, partnering Tesla with Panasonic. The lithium battery giant brings its expertise, supply chain, and capital, supplying up to $1.6 billion of the $5 billion in total investment. The state of Nevada kicked in incentives worth a reported $1.3 billion. The rest is coming from Tesla.
By mid-2017, the Tesla Motors Gigafactory will begin cranking out 75 lithium-ion cells per second for the Model 3,
Tesla’s much-anticipated electric car for the masses.
The Gigafactory is a vision of vertical integration, with raw materials to arrive at one end and finished products to exit at the other. It all begins at the automated cell lines, which are owned and operated by Panasonic. There, active powders are mixed with a liquid to form a slurry and then coated onto metal foils to form a cathode and an anode; the foils, along with porous separators, are rolled into a cylinder and filled with a Li-ion-conducting electrolyte, and caps are added to form a cell that looks like an oversized AA....MUCH MORE
In the Tesla section of the Gigafactory, hundreds of cells get packaged with electronics and cooling systems to form a complete battery module. Packs for the Model 3 will be trucked to its car plant in Fremont, Calif.; Powerpacks and Powerwalls head straight to market.
During the three years it took to get the Gigafactory running, Tesla’s competitors didn’t stand still. The Gigafactory made Tesla’s affordable Model 3 look real, compelling the big automakers to match its target 346-kilometer (215-mile) range for their own mass-market EVs, says Abuelsamid. Some of those competing EVs are already in showrooms or soon will be, leading off with GM’s 383-km-range Chevrolet Bolt, which has a starting price of $37,495. Long-range mass-market EVs are also expected from Hyundai and Ford in 2017 and from Nissan and Volkswagen in 2018....
And from the Silicon Valley Business Journal:
What's in store for Elon Musk's Q&A at the Gigafactory?
Tesla CEO Elon Musk will be on hand to speak with investors at an invite-only event on Jan. 4 at the company’s Nevada Gigafactory.The Palo Alto company sent out official invites to investors earlier this week, per Electrek. Musk will be accompanied by Chief Technology Officer JB Straubel and Chief Financial Officer Jason Wheeler.
According to the agenda sent to investors, opening remarks will commence at 9 a.m., followed by guided tours around the space. Musk, Straubel and Wheeler will also be available for a Q&A. No photos will be permitted inside the factory....MORE