Tesla is making progress in setting up production of 4680-format battery cells at its Texas plant. According to a high-ranking manager, an improved version of the cylindrical cell is already being produced. The company will also make its cathode material in Austin before the end of the year.
Tesla will make the first generation tabless cell in Texas and “a second mote manufacturable one,” Tesla manager Drew Baglino revealed in the conference call following the publication of the latest business figures. The 4680 cylindrical cells, first presented at Tesla’s Battery Day in 2020, should reduce battery costs by up to 50 per cent due to several innovations – such as the dry battery electrode (DBE) process or the tabless design. However, Tesla encountered some difficulties on the way to bringing the cylindrical cell and announced improvements into series production.
Baglino indicated during the conference call that Tesla established a cost-down roadmap through 2026, dividing it into five areas – the tabless cell design itself, the anode and cathode materials, the structural pack concept and the cell factory itself. “We’ve been making progress across all these aspects since then,” he added.
When fully ramped up, the 4680 cell factory in Texas is expected to have a 70 per cent lower capex per GWh “than typical cell factories.” Tesla had reached a weekly production rate of 868,000 4680 cells in December 2022 – enough for 1,000 vehicles. However, Baglino did not mention a more current production rate. Instead, he said, Tesla continues “to further pursue densification and investment reduction opportunities in future factory buildouts like in Nevada.”
The first cathode material for the 4680 cells will also be produced in Texas this year. Half of the production equipment and three-quarters of the supply units have already been installed in the cathode building in Austin.
Baglino also confirmed Tesla’s plan to build its own lithium refinery in Texas. Construction is expected to begin in May, with parts of the plant being commissioned later this year. “The refinery uses the sulphate-free refining process with reduced process costs, no acid or caustic reagents, lower embodied energy,” Baglino said. “It actually produces a beneficial byproduct that can be re-purposed in construction materials.”
Later along the roadmap (or even later this year), there should also be progress on the structural battery pack. “We do believe structural as a concept is a good one. It’s simpler,” Baglino said. “We’ll continue to structurally load the cells and use the pack as the floor of the vehicle while iterating the design to closer to B-level execution of this A-level architecture in future programs. And zooming out for the 4680 team Q1 was all about cost and quality.” In other words, this is only an initial version of the structural packs, so more advanced versions in the Model Y and other models could follow.
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