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Elon Musk teases research on a big battery breakthrough

Published Aug 4th, 2017 8:14PM EDT
Elon Musk

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It’s no secret that Tesla likes to keep an open mind when it comes to exploring, researching and testing new battery technologies. And though Tesla is typically cautious whenever someone claims to have unearthed a new and revolutionary battery technology, the company is more than willing to dutifully examine such claims and see how the underlying science pans out.

In an effort to remain on the vanguard of any battery technology advancements, you might recall that Tesla inked a 5-year contract with reputed battery researcher Jeff Dahn and his team of researchers back in June of 2015. Dahn, it’s worth noting, is largely considered to be one of the world’s most prominent and influential experts on lithium-ion battery technology.

Dahn began his official partnership with Tesla in 2016, and it didn’t take long for his team to come up with a new battery chemistry capable of producing batteries with markedly longer life cycles. While the technology in question has yet to appear in a shipping product, Tesla this past May indicated that the technology is actively being tested in Tesla’s labs.

With that said, Tesla CEO Elon Musk subtly alluded to a new battery technology during the company’s recent earnings conference call, a transcript of which was provided by Seeking Alpha.

When asked by an analyst about any number of recent battery advancements, including solid-state battery technology, Musk responded that any bold proclamations involving battery breakthroughs typically aren’t as important as they might initially seem.

Okay. Here’s my opinion. The battery breakthrough of the week, battery breakthrough du jour. When somebody has like some great claim that they’ve got this awesome battery, you know what, send us a sample. Or if you don’t trust us, send it to an independent lab, where the parameters can be verified. Otherwise, STF.

Yes. So everything works on PowerPoint. You know, I could give you a PowerPoint presentation about teleportation to the Andromeda Galaxy. That doesn’t mean it works. So Tesla is the biggest buyer of lithium ion batteries on earth. You know who people come to first when they’ve got a lithium ion battery? Us, because we’re their biggest customer.

I would love it if we could have some breakthrough. It’d be awesome. I think there are some interesting things on the horizon. But then the time it takes from something working in the lab to working at moderate production levels to working at higher production levels to optimizing the cost is several years. So it’s not like it suddenly pops out of nowhere.

Shortly thereafter, Musk seemed to hint that the company was in the midst of testing an intriguing new battery technology, perhaps alluding to the work Dahn and his team of researchers have been putting together.

I mean, there are some breakthroughs that I think are achievable. They’re confidential, so I can’t talk about them on this call, but there’s one particular avenue that I’m confident could be made to work. That would be fairly – the most significant one breakthrough in a while.

As the EV space becomes more and more crowded, Tesla’s ability to introduce best-in-class battery technology will become an increasingly important product differentiator. And while such a battery breakthrough may still be years away, there’s no doubt that Tesla is doing all it can to ensure that it not only doesn’t miss the next wave of innovation, but that it’s at the forefront of it.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.