Battery improvements fuel Tesla’s future

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Tesla has been much in the news recently. Following the merger of its operations with sister company Solar City, it has announced a move into solar roofing. And now the Dutch regulator, RDW, has included two variants in its public database for Tesla vehicles certified for use in the European Union, implying an increase in battery power.

Specifically, the variants 100D and 100X have been included, indicating that Tesla plans to develop a vehicle with a battery offering 100Kwh of power, which would get a car from London to Scotland with juice to spare. How near they are may depend on the extent to which they are incorporating lithium air technology.

At present, lithium ion batteries are the staple of electric vehicles (and also of smart phones and laptop computers). But they are heavy and their range is limited to 50-80 miles.

Lithium air batteries introduce oxygen, which reacts with the lithium to create an energy density closer to that of gasoline, so London to Edinburgh would be a realistic range to expect of them. The team at Cambridge University who have developed a demonstrator also claim the batteries will be a fifth of the weight and a fifth of the price of existing lithium-ion batteries.

On its website, Tesla states that it would need the entire world’s current lithium production to produce half a million vehicles per year. Bolivia holds most of the world’s reserves, but has been slow to move to production, so Chile and Australia dominated output in 2015.

As countries with lithium deposits scale up production, the arrival of a breakthrough in the energetic density of the battery could not be more timely.