Does Tesla have a game-changing new battery cell in the pipeline?

There’s little dispute that Tesla has a substantial head start in terms of battery tech vis a vis the legacy automakers. Now Electrek has reported that Tesla has a secret project called “Roadrunner” that could soon enable the company to produce much cheaper battery cells on a massive scale.

For some time, it’s been apparent that Tesla plans to move beyond its long-time partnership with Panasonic, and start making its own battery cells. The evidence has accumulated: the acquisition of Maxwell, which developed a novel dry electrode technology; hints of plans to manufacture cells; job listings for cell manufacturing positions; the building of a pilot cell production line in Fremont.

Electrek, citing unnamed sources, reports that the top-secret Roadrunner project aims to achieve mass production of a new cell that’s both more energy-dense and cheaper, using technologies from Maxwell and new wisdom gleaned by Jeff Dahn’s research lab. Tesla is believed to have already tested prototype Roadrunner cells, and may be able to produce them in volume soon.

Electrek also cites some cryptic comments having to do with battery cells made by Tesla engineers on LinkedIn. Tesla is “reinventing Li-Ion battery cell manufacturing technology,” and “developing world-class battery cell manufacturing technologies to enable the next generation of low-cost, high-performance electric vehicles and energy storage products.”

Tesla is also reported to be working on incremental improvements at the module and pack levels: replacing wire bonding with laser-welded technology; and moving to a module-less design using prismatic cells for made-in-China Model 3s.

There’s so much going on at Tesla these days that it’s hard to keep up with the news—some is confirmed, some just seems likely, and some is probably rumor. But one thing seems certain: the upstart automaker is getting perilously close to the $100/kWh battery cost that many believe will amount to a death sentence for the fossil-fueled automobile. Tesla is planning a Battery Investor Day event in April, and some expect Elon Musk to deliver the bad (for the oil industry) news then.

Source: Electrek