Tesla Motors have signed an exclusive 5 year research agreement with Dahn Labs. Dahn Labs are a battery research group at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada headed up by professor Jeff Dahn. Global battery research has undergone a transformation over the past decade as the advent of electric vehicles and battery storage expand the battery markets beyond the consumer electronics segment.

c2ee21892e-f1Lab based breakthroughs are now announced almost on a monthly basis with predictions of massive reductions in price at the same time as greater energy density and longer life cycles.

It is a big step moving from an experimental breakthrough to a real life technology that has jumped the many hoops of trial and error in bringing to market a reliable product.

Tesla’s current battery technology is at the forefront of lithium ion based batteries with arguably the best battery chemistry on the market.  Rather than wait for the next big breakthrough Tesla has embarked on battery price reductions by scaling manufacture through the construction of the gigafactory.  This one facility will double the amount of global battery capacity.

Should Elon Musk have waited till the next breakthrough technology before building the factory or will the factory be adaptable to any breakthrough technologies.  Or will it end up being made redundant by some major technological innovation?

It would be silly to think the serial entrepreneur and engineer would not have made allowance for advances in battery technology or built in flexibility to the production processes within the gigafactory.  The alliance with Dahn Labs tells us there is more room for improvement with lithium battery technology and Tesla wants to be first with any ‘secret sauce’ the labs can cook up.

Not all lithium batteries are the same!  There is quite a bit of variation in the chemistry of lithium batteries, a lot of which has to do with the various additives found in the electrolyte.  One of the major problems with lithium batteries is the build up of ‘gunk’ on the negative electrode.  Over time this leads to a reduction in the batteries ability to maintain maximum charge and eventually will lead to cell failure.  In simplistic terms this build up can be somewhat controlled by including additives in the electrolyte.  The number and types of additives can make a significant impact on battery performance and durability.

How do you determine which additives will perform best in the real world rather than controlled lab ‘perfect’ conditions.  Nissan ran in to trouble with the original LEAF batteries by not including thermal cooling which led to reduced life spans in high temperatures (and a class action lawsuit).  That problem has since been corrected but it illustrates how real world conditions can upset lab test results.

At Dahn labs they have developed highly accurate measuring equipment to simulate real world conditions meaning that the results of charge/discharge cycles can be accurately predicted without the need to wait for years of actual battery usage to measure results.  Jeff Dahn in this interesting, if a little technical, seminar below describes how they’ve gone about addressing the issues surrounding lithium batteries.  Headsup – this video runs for 1hour 13mins.