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article imageOp-Ed: New battery technology needed for Tesla to keep its promises

By Ken Hanly     Nov 24, 2017 in Technology
Many experts on battery technology say that for Elon Musk to deliver on his promises about the capabilities of the new Tesla heavy duty Semi Truck and the Roadster, the company would need to far exceed what is possible with existing batteries.
The Tesla Semi Truck
Musk claims that the Tesla Semi Truck will be able to travel 500 miles on a single charge with a load of 80,000 pounds. It will be able to recharge enough for a further 400 miles in half an hour giving the driver time for just a short lunch break!
Bloomberg estimates that to do this would require a charging system that is 10 times more powerful than any in existence now. The fastest are Tesla's own superchargers.
The record range on a single charge for an electric semi-truck of 220 miles is held by Daimler with a truck just unveiled in October.
Menahem Anderman, president of Total Battery Consulting claimed that a heavy-duty long-range truck was the toughest vehicle to electrify while still making a profit. He said that Tesla may be trying to show that if you can make a semi-truck run on batteries then you can make everything else run with batteries.
The Tesla Roadster
Musk claims the roadster will be the quickest production car every built.
To achieve such speed the company needs to fit into its tiny frame a battery twice as powerful as the largest battery now available for electric cars.
Tesla may be hoping for big improvements in battery technology
Sam Jaffe a battery analyst at Calm Energy Research said that Musk's claims are far beyond any current industry standards for EVs. For Musk's claims to be realized there must be advances in battery technology or new understanding of how technology can be put to use.
Some experts think that Musk is banking on new technological improvements and innovations between the present and when the new vehicles are ready for delivery.
With other models including the recent Model 3, Tesla has missed production targets However some model 3's will be delivered to those with regular reservations before the end of this year.
How will Musk meet his claims about the semi truck?
Tesla has been making its trucks more aerodynamic and more efficient. Wind drag is down to levels comparable to sports cars.
However , even with such efficiency a battery capacity of 600 to 1,000 kilowatt hours would be required to meet Musk's claims according to estimates prepared by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). If the battery were 800 kilowatt hours it would weigh more than 10,000 pounds and cost more than $100,000.
Musk's estimate of the cost for the truck is $180,000 appears optimistic to say the least when the battery alone will cost around 100,000. Tesla also estimates that fuel savings will result in a two year payback when compared to diesel.
Tesla may be counting on a continuing steep fall in the price of batteries. The first Tesla Semis are not scheduled to be on the road until late 2019. The trucks can always appear behind schedule. No doubt at first there will only be a few units on the road being tested. Batteries could cost much less by the time large orders are placed.
As mentioned, the chargers must be ten times as powerful as the most powerful Tesla has now. Musk also promises a price of 7 cents per kilowatt hour. This would save on fuel costs, up to $30,000 a year for some truckers according to BNEF estimates.
Musk claims that adding solar power and having massive battery packs at the charging stations will help achieve this aim. Nevertheless it again appears quite optimistic. BNEF estimates that Tesla will pay a minimum of 40 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity so the company is in effect subsidizing each kilowatt hour used by a trucking company by 33 cents. That hardly makes much economic sense.
Tesla is already providing huge subsidies on electricity to charge its existing car fleet. It is hardly surprising that Tesla stock price drops have paid off handsomely for clever short sellers.
How will Tesla meet claims about the new roadster?
The battery range on the new roadster is said to be 620 miles on a single charge. This is almost twice the range of the leading vehicles now Tesla's own Model S and Model X.
Musk himself says that to achieve its power and range, the car will need to have a 200-kilowatt-hour battery. The battery would need to be twice the size of any battery that Tesla uses at present
A BNEF member said that he expects Tesla would double-stack battery packs underneath the floor of the roadster. However he said that the battery packs would be too large to fit in the small frame.
Musk may be hoping that the size can be reduced before the first vehicles are scheduled to be delivered in 2020. Battery density has been improving at the rate of 7.5 percent a year. This is happening without a major breakthrough in battery chemistry.
Musk has a mixed record and takes big risks
As mentioned earlier, Musk is having problems with production of the Tesla Model 3 a car that is crucial to his creating a mass-market vehicle.
He also is having problems with Space X another risky adventure intended to make travel in space less expensive.
However, as discussed in a recent Digital Journal article, Musk recently built the largest battery ever for the State of South Australia. He bet a billionaire Australian that he could complete the project in 100 days and did so ahead of time. He promised that the project would be free if he did not complete it on time.
With respect to the claims made about the Tesla Semi and Roadster, Musk has not made any such promises. Probably with good reason. Musk is already taking many risks with these two projects. He will be busy enough trying to manage those risks without adding promises that would be difficult to keep.
Musk is also planning to build a plant in China to manufacture electric vehicles.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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