Why the World Needs Battery Innovation!
In a world where technology seems to always be rapidly advancing, a hidden threat — stagnation — lies hidden just below the surface. Advances in many fields are being held back by one thing: batteries. Companies like Tesla Motors are competing to make new breakthroughs in battery technology, the implementation of which requires new manufacturing technology and a new breed of technologically skilled worker.
The Race for Better Batteries
A race between the world powers for the next breakthrough in battery technology is ongoing. Despite the large amount of competition and money invested in research, the path to the finish line is rife with obstacles. Disputes over performance measures, engineering methods, target markets, and materials are widespread, and large technological advances are slow to develop.
This frustrating quest for the next step in battery technology is nevertheless critical to many other developing technologies. Modern electric vehicles are limited by their current batteries, and better battery technology would unlock a revolution in that field. The same goes for wearable electronics. And though the use of batteries to store solar and wind energy to power everything from homes to entire electrical grids has long been talked about, that too is being held back by current limitations in modern batteries.
For all this promise, the last innovation in battery technology took place over 25 years ago when Sony developed the first rechargeable lithium-ion battery. This aging technology remains the standard to this day.
There is no shortage of people and organizations trying to unlock a technological revolution. The United States Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency –Energy funds many programs that seek to develop a next-gen battery. Private researchers are also getting in on the action — like MIT chemistry professor Donald Sadoway, who is working to build batteries for the storage of energy generated by wind and solar power. Or materials scientist Jay Whitacre of Carnegie Mellon University, whose company, Aquion Energy, has raised $200 million for research. The most well-known figure might be Elon Musk, the eccentric CEO of Tesla Motors, whose Powerwall battery is intended to power cars and even entire homes efficiently and affordably.
Though batteries the limiting factor for electric cars, no automaker has put as many resources into researching and producing them than Tesla Motors. Tesla’s Powerwall battery pack is the fruit of that effort. The Powerwall, the second generation of which was announced last year, uses lithium-ion technology and has a capacity of 100 kilowatt-hours.
According to Musk, no one comes close to Tesla in the area of affordable and efficient battery technology. Tesla regularly monitors progress being made in about 60 different research initiatives around the world in their quest for better batteries. When one of them looks promising enough, Tesla approaches them with a proposal.
One of the primary goals of Tesla’s research is to produce batteries as cheaply as possible. For its lower-cost model, the Model 3, they had to find a way to reduce the cost of the batteries by 30 percent per kilowatt-hour.
Key to Tesla’s plan to electrify transportation is the construction of its Gigafactory, a cutting-edge manufacturing centre for the batteries in its Model 3 cars. Though it is currently less than a third complete, it is scheduled to open in 2018. It will double the worldwide production of lithium-ion batteries, and is expected to make the United States a dominant player in the worldwide battery production market.
Though the cutting-edge factory will be highly automated, it is still expected to create 6,500 full-time jobs by 2020. Many of these workers will act as electromechanical technicians, maintaining and repairing the production equipment.
The future of manufacturing is expected to undergo many changes as new advances in battery technology are discovered and implemented. The race to the next breakthrough continues and the industry is ripe for change. Two other battery factories to rival the Gigafactory have already been announced by Tesla’s competitors. But new battery technology won’t just change the automotive industry; how everything from smartphones to solar panels are made will undergo a revolution. Modern, highly automated factories will be built to keep up with the changing times, and the nature of their workers will have to change as well.