It’s been only three weeks since we published our report on energy storage, but already the ever-evolving field of battery technology has seen another advancement. Jeff Dahn, a prominent battery researcher for Tesla at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, announced at a talk at MIT last week that his team has substantially extended the lifetime of batteries of Tesla stationary charging stations. This is less than a year into his five-year research partnership with Tesla, and already he and his team have met a major research objective. Both the significance of this discovery and the potential that it signals for the pace of future research might make Tesla a more attractive buy.
The essence of the breakthrough hinges on the fact that all batteries gradually degrade with use, being able to store less and less energy over time. For cars, a degrading battery is an inconvenience, and for charging stations it’s a necessity that energy storage units be able to handle repeated recharging and discharging without degrading. Dahn’s new discovery, which makes use of a particular aluminum coating, promises to effectively double the lifetime of batteries before they reach a given level of degradation. The key to this find was not simply the aluminum, though, but the use of a new, more precise method of measuring battery degradation which allowed many different concepts to be more quickly and accurately assessed, and which might play a similar role in future research projects.
Discoveries such as this one might spell an increased viability for Tesla in the foreseeable future. While Tesla remains unprofitable, a cautious optimism about its future success might be warranted – with enough research that lowers cost and other barriers to consumers, Tesla could begin to see many more sales to average auto buyers. For my money, I’d hold off on buying Tesla stock for now. The current increasing suspicion among investors that the tech sector is overvalued, and the highly speculative nature of any investment in Tesla right now, likely mean that Tesla stock stands to take a big hit in the event of a market correction, but a continued eye on their research advances is probably a good idea.
It’s also interesting to note that most of Dahn research pertains to Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide (NMC) batteries for stationary storage and Nickel Cobalt Aluminum Oxide (NCA) batteries for vehicles. In our energy storage report we emphasized the persistently central role of lithium in battery storage technology, but if there’s enough research success with alternative metals, price and availability might push the commodities market toward these other materials.
Image of Tesla Supercharger Station courtesy of Wikimedia user Z22