Are Tesla’s plans for a giant battery factory realistic?
The Wall Street Journal - 05/18/2014
Tesla Motors Inc. plans to build one of the world’s largest factories of any kind in the U.S. But it wouldn’t build its electric cars there—it would make the batteries to power them.
The plant, slated for completion by 2020 at a cost of as much as $5 billion, would be able to turn out more lithium-ion batteries than all the battery factories in the world today. Tesla plans to break ground in June, though the site is still uncertain, and expects to start producing batteries at the plant by 2017. It says the scale will help drive the cost of batteries down, in turn helping to make a mass-market, all-electric car possible.
Tesla’s plan follows a largely failed effort by the Obama administration to create a large battery-manufacturing base in the U.S. Several manufacturers that built battery plants as part of that initiative went into bankruptcy after being caught with too much capacity when projected demand for electric cars failed to materialize.
Against this backdrop, how realistic is Tesla’s plan? We spoke with several experts in the field to get their takes. Below are edited excerpts of their responses.
We Haven’t Invented It Yet
K.M. Abraham is a research professor at the Northeastern University Center for Renewable Energy Technology, has worked for 30 years on lithium battery technology, was one of the first to demonstrate rechargeable lithium batteries and invented next-generation lithium air batteries. He also has a battery consulting company called E-KEM Sciences.