Elon Touts Radical Manufacturing Redesign, Tesla Awarded Metal Air Battery Patent

The excitement about Tesla Battery Day on September 22 is ramping up as electric vehicle fans eagerly await the oft delayed event. Speculation is high that Elon and his crew will announce some major new battery technology that day. But while our focus is on batteries, Elon’s focus, as always, is on anything and everything that can help make Tesla vehicles the choice of more customers. Among other things, that means driving down costs so that more people can afford an electric car.

Musk was in Berlin earlier this month at the site of Tesla’s first European factory, where he told those in attendance the Model Y made there will look the same on the outside but will be radically different beneath the sheetmetal, according to a report by Reuters. “It will be the first time that there will be a transformation in the core structural design of the vehicle. It’s quite a big thing. Both manufacturing, engineering and design as well.”

Those remarks build on Musk’s statement during the Q2 earnings call earlier this year in which he said, “We’re really changing the design of the [Model Y] to make it more manufacturable. The fundamental architecture of the Model Y will be different in Berlin. It may look the same but the internals will be quite different and fundamentally more architecturally efficient than what we have done to date.” This seems to suggest more castings like those being produced by the high-pressure casting machine recently installed at the Fremont factory.

Musk reiterated his focus on moving the EV revolution forward more quickly but also mentioned his desire to lead the transition to sustainable energy. “The three elements needed for a sustainable energy future are sustainable energy generation, energy storage, and sustainable transport — electric cars. I think we will be building some batteries and cells and other things here. That will be good for stationary storage of wind and solar,” Musk stated. Tesla has recently obtained a license to trade electricity across western Europe.

Musk pronounced himself pleased with the progress being made on the new factory and praised the availability of so much local engineering talent. “We will start off with the factory but we will also do some original engineering and design work. It is going to be, actually to be totally frank, better than the one in the U.S.” He claims the paint shop will be the most advanced in the world. That’s a good thing, as one of the common complaints about new Teslas from Fremont involves defects in the paint.

Tesla Granted Metal Air Battery Patent

In other news that may or may not have anything to do with Battery Day, Tesla has recently received a patent in the US for a metal air battery, according to EVUnite. The patent application was originally filed January 16th, 2017 and is titled “Hazard Mitigation Through Gas Flow Communication Between Battery Packs.” The inventor is listed as Tesla’s Vice President of Cell and Product Development Weston Arthur Hermann.

The defining feature of the patent application is the use of both a metal air battery pack and a conventional lithium ion battery pack in the same vehicle. EVUnite touts this as an idea that solves the flammability issues associated with metal air batteries. But a comment to the story by someone calling himself Lance Pickup clarifies the situation.

“Okay, this is not the best written article. It states that metal-air batteries are the ones prone to thermal runaway. No, it’s the non-metal-air (I’ll call them “standard”) batteries that are. The metal-air battery is basically used as a heat/pressure sink for the standard battery that may be undergoing a potential thermal/pressure runaway. So right off the bat, it’s completely wrong. But more to the point, this patent doesn’t mean that Tesla is actively working on metal-air batteries. It’s simply that they have come up with a clever use of a metal-air battery to act as a heat/pressure sink for the standard battery undergoing a thermal runaway event. That’s it. However, I am actually really excited about this patent, and here’s why.

“Patents get written all the time for things that may never make it into production. They may even be done “defensively” to patent an idea that the competition may be working on, but for which you have no intention of marketing. And even if this does represent something in Tesla’s pipeline, it’s not the metal-air battery itself called out in this patent, but just the interface between it and the standard battery. However, in this case I do actually suspect that Tesla has at least been experimenting with a hybrid standard/metal-air battery pack, and that is HUGE news.

“Despite what the article says, the drawback of metal-air battery packs is that despite the enormous energy density of metal-air batteries, the electrolyte of metal-air batteries becomes depleted after use and must be replenished. Maybe this isn’t too awful, I suppose it could kind of similar to filling up a tank with gas: you would flush the old electrolyte out and pump new electrolyte in, but certainly not as convenient as just charging your car at home.

“But I have always thought that the killer use case for metal-air batteries would be as a range extender. In other words, have a smaller (100-150 miles), cheaper standard battery pack that would be used for normal everyday use. You would never even touch the metal-air battery. But the 1000-mile metal air battery (sounds unrealistic, but that is how much more energy dense metal-air batteries are!) would be used only on long distance trips, eliminating charging stops altogether (well, you could put the 150 miles back into your primary battery at your rest stops). Once your metal-air battery was depleted (after your long distance trip) you would go to an electrolyte replenishing station to purge/refill the electrolyte. I think this would be an amazing combination and I do hope that Tesla is working on this, even if it’s still several years away.”

EVUnite apparently has the same issue we suffer with here at CleanTechnica — readers who are smarter than the writers. Will Tesla have anything to say about metal air batteries on Battery Day? Maybe, maybe not. At least we won’t have to wait very long to find out.

Original Publication by Steve Hanley at CleanTechnica.

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