You may have heard rumors about there being a new type of battery in the Tesla Model 3. This is true; Tesla is currently working with battery manufacturers worldwide to produce a battery that claims to be capable of lasting a lifetime of one million miles before needing to be replaced.
This new battery is called a Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) battery. Not only does the LFP come with the claim of a longer lifetime, but it also holds the advantages of being:
- More eco-friendly
- More thermally stable
- Cheaper to produce due to the lack of cobalt
You are invited to continue below to learn about all the advantages and pitfalls of this exciting new technology.
What’s Different About the New Battery in The Tesla Model 3?
Throughout its infancy, the electric vehicle industry’s growth has been limited due to the environmental impacts and rarity of the elements that are used in the battery. Also of concern is the relatively short lifespan of the battery itself, which comes with a warranty of 8 years or 100,000 miles in the case of the Model 3. The new battery holds the potential to be another significant step towards a more sustainable future in the EV industry.
Reformulated Battery Ingredients
Tesla enlisted the help of battery manufacturer Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) and a crew of academic battery experts in this endeavor. At the center of the transformation is a significant change in the chemistry of the battery.
Lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries do not contain any cobalt or nickel. The current standard in the EV industry is the lithium-ion battery, which requires these elements in the battery’s cathode. The lithium-ion battery has historically been preferred in vehicles because it has a higher energy density than a lithium-iron-phosphate battery. A battery with a higher energy density will also have a more extended battery range.
LFP batteries do offer many advantages over the lithium-ion packs currently used in the Tesla Model 3. This a topic that will be discussed in greater detail in the sections below.
You Are Encouraged to Charge the New Battery To 100%
Owners of lithium-ion car batteries are discouraged from ever charging their vehicles to 100%. Instead, they should aim for a 90% charge level to keep the battery modules from becoming damaged. This is not the case with lithium-iron-phosphate batteries. Owners of LFP batteries are encouraged to charge to 100%. It doesn’t harm these new batteries in the same way that it does with the old models.
You will certainly need to charge the new battery to its full charge level since it does have a lower energy density. All other things being equal, an LFP battery will lose its charge faster than a standard lithium-ion battery.
What Are the Advantages of The New Tesla Model 3 Batteries?
There are significant advantages to this new battery, chief among them the potential to last significantly more miles and years than the current battery in the Model 3. Given that the fundamental aim of the EV project is to build a more sustainable future, the LFP has the current lithium-ion batteries beat in this regard as well.
LFP batteries do come with a significantly higher life expectancy than their lithium-ion predecessors. They come with the claim of being able to withstand up to one million miles worth of battery life cycles. The claim is that this would potentially last an owner 16 years, although details on the warranty have not yet been released.
The current Tesla lithium-ion batteries come with a warranty covering a 70% battery retention after eight years of use or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. A battery that can last 1 million miles would be a significant improvement.
Not only do LFP batteries have a better life cycle, but they also offer greater potential to be repurposed after they have outlasted their usefulness in electric vehicles. LFPs can be provided a second life for grid-scale energy applications, for instance. They will continue to provide a service to the energy sector without having to be salvaged for valuable elements.
They Can Be Charged Faster
Perhaps it is the inconvenience of charge time that is causing some to shun the idea of owning an electric vehicle. Research has shown that it should take less time to charge the type of battery that is going to be included in the Tesla Model 3.
It appears that the greater thermal stability of the LFP battery allows it to be recharged in frequent bursts. Tesla does operate a network of superchargers for its current lineup, but frequent use is discouraged because of the damage that it can do to the battery.
There is a greater chance that the LFP batteries will not incur the same type of damage from being charged in rapid bursts. With the current system, the best practice is to charge the battery over a prolonged time so that overheating does not occur. It often becomes an inconvenience, as it can take up to 10 hours to fully charge a Tesla Model 3.
Lower Manufacturing Costs
Another positive is that LFP technology has already been shown to be significantly cheaper than lithium-ion batteries. In China, the price of the cathode material used in LFPs is 43% less expensive than the Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC) cathode that is used in lithium-ion batteries.
Why is this so important? The cathode is the most expensive part of the battery. If you can reduce the money it takes to build this part, then you will have already won a big part of the battle for reducing electric vehicle costs. Also helping to reduce manufacturing costs is Tesla’s implementation of massive factories that allow the company a chance to piece everything together in one location, rather than having to rely on several smaller factories across the globe.
Perhaps you have heard of the Tesla Gigafactory in the Nevada desert. Factories like this can reduce the need for the US to import lithium-ion batteries. Although the raw materials will still need to be sourced globally, importing these relatively lightweight materials will still reduce energy expenditures.
This is because there will no longer be a need to transport heavy batteries across the world. The company is talking about building even larger factories, where even more functions will be carried out on site. Maximum efficiency is the name of the game for Tesla.
LFP Batteries Are More Eco-Friendly
The mining of materials for lithium-ion can come at a high cost to the environment. While they are many materials that both types of batteries share, the specific exclusion of cobalt is significant.
The cobalt-extraction process involves the release of radioactive particles that can have a direct impact on human health in the parts of the world where cobalt is mined. Ever since EVs first hit the market, the race has been on to create a battery that either reduces the number of toxic substances in the battery or removes them entirely.
A longer life expectancy is another desirable characteristic of any product that is supposed to be more sustainable than its predecessors. The LFP certainly fits the mold since it is expected to last as long as a million miles. It shouldn’t have to be replaced every ten years or so, as is the case with the battery packs built into the 2020 Tesla Model 3.
Less Risk of Overheating
LFP batteries carry a lower risk of overheating and catching on fire, owing to their greater thermal stability. LFP batteries are the most thermally stable of all such systems included in vehicles. The current lithium-ion packs that have become the industry standard are actually among the least thermally stable of all battery types.
Overheating issues in electric vehicles usually occur under the conditions of one of the following:
Research has shown that the most frequent cause of safety-related incidents is vehicular accidents. The most dangerous of these scenarios is when the battery pack has been poked by a sharp object.
Are There Any Downsides to The New Tesla Model 3 Battery?
While it is easy to get carried away with excitement over these innovations, it is essential to remember that this is very much still a work in progress. Despite all the benefits of LFP technology, the Nickel Institute has projected that only 25% of all electric vehicles in China will be fitted with this type of battery over the next several years.
Lower Energy Density
LFP batteries are naturally less energy-dense than standard lithium-ion batteries. Simply put, you will get less bang for your buck. This is not necessarily ideal when you consider the fact that Tesla vehicles tend to be lightweight. If they have to be made any heavier, that may negate some of the cost savings.
As it stands, an LFP battery the equivalent size of the standard lithium-ion batteries already in EV vehicles would only have 66% of the battery range. This does not help the problem of limited battery range; it only exacerbates it. Fortunately, there is a solution.
The researchers enlisted by Tesla are combating this issue by designing a unique “cell-to-pack” battery casing system that helps cut down on the weight and costs. This design is capable of reducing the number of connections and circuits within the battery system by a factor of 200. CATL is also overcoming the energy density issue by using special chemical additives, materials, and coatings to further increase the battery range of the LFP batteries.
Better Battery Life in Mild Climates
Excessively hot or cold climates may wreak havoc on battery range. One study comparing the lifespan of LPF batteries in hot and mild climates found that the batteries last 75% longer in San Francisco than they do in Phoenix. This was attributed to the fact that the Phoenix has hot and dry weather, while San Francisco is generally mild.
It is important to note that the study did find that having some kind of an air-cooling apparatus will help keep the battery from becoming damaged due to heat. Still, this does underscore the potential for regional climate variations to play a role in battery life.
This is not at all a problem that is unique to LFP batteries. It has also been found that frigid weather can cause current EV batteries to lose 40% of their expected range. You could also argue that extreme weather’s detrimental effects on all types of vehicles is pretty well-documented.
An Unestablished Technology, Will It Be Worth It?
Ever the innovator, Tesla seems to be moving full steam ahead with a promising technology that is very much still in its infancy. As with all emerging products, there is bound to be some trial-and-error in the early going. At least prospective buyers will be happy to know that LFP batteries do have an established history of being used in commercial vehicles.
LFP batteries have already seen prior use in buses throughout China. These are primarily utilized in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing, where congested highways expose the drawbacks of diesel buses.
Electric is better than diesel in busy cities because the regenerative braking systems perform much better during the continuous stop-start duty cycles. Many cities in the US are too sparsely-populated to cash in on these benefits. Still, the most densely-populated metros in both the US and Europe have begun to realize the great potential of electric transportation.
So, while LFP batteries are not yet widespread in daily drivers, they have at least proven effective in public transport.
It May Cost More to Recycle
One unfortunate aspect of LFP batteries is that they cost more to recycle than the lithium-ion batteries currently widely used. This is because the Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC) batteries contain metals that can easily be repurposed for revenue at the end of the battery’s lifetime.
LFP packs do not contain these valuable elements. One study in China found that recycling LFP batteries result in a net profit of $504, much lower than the net profit of $2,599 from the recycling of the NMC battery. It’s also likely that this will be even less profitable in the US, where labor costs are higher.
You could justify this by saying that nobody would purchase a battery claiming to last a million miles with the idea that they will be able to make a little money from scraps eventually. Instead, the cost-saving advantage of the LFP should be its durability.
When Will the New Tesla Model 3 Battery Be Available?
The Model 3 vehicles with LFP technology were first exported out of China during the second half of 2020, focusing on European countries. Nations receiving these cars include:
It was also reported during this time that New Zealand, Australia, and Singapore would be included in the first waves of new Model 3 exports.
The LFP- Tesla Model 3 has also been released to consumers in China. Given a relatively limited sample size of released vehicles, it is still a little too early to decide about how well these new batteries are holding up on the road. Ideally, all the kinks will be worked out before release in the North American market. If all goes well, you can anticipate the LFP batteries reaching this part of the world soon.
How Much Less Will the New Tesla Model 3 Battery Cost?
The removal of cobalt has resulted in cost savings in the areas of the world where the Model 3 is already being sold with LFP battery packs. In China, the price of the Tesla Model 3 has been cut from $41,959 down to $37,395, a $4,564 decrease.
In the US, the Tesla Model 3 starts at $30,190 for the Standard Range Plus RWD version and ends at $47,190 for the Performance AWD version. As it stands, only the Standard Range Plus version will be the only one that will get the LFP battery. This is primarily due to the battery capacity concerns, as it would take a lot of packs to replace the current capacity of the Performance version.
You can certainly see that the LFP offers potential for both up-front savings and long term savings. However, it indeed remains to be seen just how this battery stacks up performance-wise versus the lithium-ion packs currently used in the Model 3. Another point of consideration is how many batteries each vehicle will need to keep you on the go.
The main difference between the new LFP battery and the current lithium-ion battery in the Tesla Model 3 is that it will longer need cobalt. This is a significant victory in terms of environmental sustainability, as the mining of cobalt has led to severe environmental degradation.
Compared to lithium-ion batteries, LFP batteries are:
- Cheaper to produce
- Last longer before needing to be replaced
- Less susceptible to overheating
- Unfortunately, have a lower energy density
- Can be charged faster without worries about causing damage to the battery