Better and cheaper batteries will be one of the key enabling technologies for the clean, distributed energy system of the future. More specifically, they are a critical component of Tesla’s master plan to produce an affordable mass-market EV.
The Seers of Silicon Valley added a big name to their stable of battery boffins this week, signing a 5-year exclusive partnership with Jeff Dahn, a prominent battery researcher and professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.
Dahn was in the battery headlines in April, as chemical colossi BASF and 3M squared off for a court battle that could have important implications for next-gen EVs. The case centers around two competing patents for the cathode material nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC), one filed by the Argonne National Laboratory, and the other filed by 3M for Mr. Dahn’s work. NMC is used in the Chevy Volt’s battery pack, and may also be a key material in the coming generation of 200-mile EVs.
Dahn will begin his exclusive partnership with Tesla in June 2016, after finishing his current work with 3M. Tesla will support Dahn’s team of about 20 graduate students, technical staff and post-docs for at least five years.
Dahn and his team will work to increase both the energy density and the lifetime of lithium-ion cells. In an interview with Fortune, Dahn explained that it’s theoretically easy to increase energy density in a lithium-ion cell simply by charging it to a higher voltage. “The problem is when you do that, the lifetime is compromised. So it’s always a trade-off between lifetime and energy density.”
Dan said he will continue to focus on lithium-ion batteries, and not on the more exotic variants being pursued by some researchers, such as lithium-air or lithium-sulfur.
Tesla’s Gigafactory was what inspired Dahn to hook up with the company. “I thought, ‘This is fantastic, I’ve got to be a part of this somehow,’” Dahn said when he learned about plans for the cutting-edge battery manufacturing facility.