Panasonic to revamp Tesla-supplied battery in US

Improved energy density for cell that Japanese firm sells to Tesla

Panasonic to revamp Tesla-supplied battery in US
The battery facility is located in Nevada

Japanese electronics heavyweight Panasonic will develop an improved capacity version of its 2170 battery at its Nevada facility, which it operates alongside US EV pure play Tesla.

Speaking to Bloomberg TV, Shoichiro Watanabe, CTO of Panasonic Energy, confirmed that the company would ramp up battery production at the Nevada plant at the same time as rolling out the new cell. The current version of the 2170 cell is installed in versions of the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y.

“Between now and 2025 we will further increase battery capacity and manufacturing efficiency by 5pc, which amounts to a 10pc increase in overall production,” Watanabe says. The plan signals a reversal of a slowdown in demand for the batteries that Panasonic produces for Tesla in the third quarter of 2023, which caused the Japanese firm to slow its Japanese cell production by 60pc.

The newest generation of the 2170 battery will demonstrate higher energy density and could allow automakers to save on manufacturing costs. This is due both to increased power-to-size output of the new cell but also because of a localised manufacturing process that Panasonic is prioritising in North America.

“Since the size of the battery is five times larger, from the car maker’s point of view the number of batteries is reduced to one fifth, and the number of connecting parts and the number of welding processes can be reduced to one fifth.”

In an effort to localise its upstream battery supply chain for the North American market, Panasonic is also ramping up a battery facility in Kansas, although it shelved plans for a similar Oklahoma plant in December.

“We have been focussing on Nevada, to see how many cutting-edge batteries we can mass produce over there," Watanabe says, explaining that Panasonic is anticipating some supply chain disruptions around mineral export restrictions from China.

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“We are working in partnership with several companies to recycle in North America and use materials that are produced there,” Watanabe says. “Since our operations are based in North America, we understand that local production for local consumption is inevitable.”

Panasonic also reveals that mass production of the Elon Musk-championed 4680 battery cell is rescheduled to begin at Panasonic’s Wakayama facility in Japan in the second half of 2024 “so that higher-density technologies can be introduced to further enhance competitiveness”. Panasonic says it is on schedule with ramping up its production facility in and that the company is targeting the beginning of production in the first half of April-March 2024 fiscal year.

Silicon possibilities

Panasonic will also partner with US battery materials firm Sila as a silicon provider for silicon anode material to be produced by Panasonic in North America for the North American market.

“To achieve a 25pc increase in battery energy density, from the current level of 800Wh/L to 1,000Wh/L by 2031, it is essential to incorporate next-generation silicon materials in its battery development.” Panasonic says.

“The use of silicon is key to improving battery performance, as it has in theory 10 times the capacity of graphite, a material commonly used in the current production of lithium-ion battery anodes,” the firm adds.

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