2022 is a really interesting year to buy a Tesla because this is the first time ever that Tesla is putting three different batteries in their vehicles. Many people are unaware that they’re even doing this. It’s important to know the difference. In this article, we’ll explain Tesla’s three different batteries and how they compare to each other so that you can make the best buying decision for your Tesla.
Tesla Battery #1
Let’s take a look at Tesla’s first battery option: the Nickel Cobalt Aluminum (NCA).
The 18650 Battery
Nearly a decade ago, Tesla began utilizing battery cells called “the 18650” which Panasonic manufactured for the Model S and Model X. The battery name comes from the dimensions of the cells, which are 18 millimeters in diameter and 65 millimeters in length and the overall size is slightly larger than your standard AA battery.
The Model S and Model X are still equipped with these battery cells to this day, with a single vehicle battery pack containing thousands of these cells.
The 2170 Battery
A few years later, in 2017, with the launch of the Model 3, Tesla and Panasonic developed a new and improved type of battery cell called “the 2170” which is 21 millimeters by 70 millimeters and can store a lot more energy than its predecessor.
According to Elon Musk at the time, it was the highest energy density cell in the world and also the cheapest. The 2170 cell is around 50% larger by volume than the 18650, but it can deliver almost double the current. The 2170 battery cell is currently what’s used in all of the dual-motor variants of the Model 3 and Model Y.
Both of these battery cells are considered NCA batteries. This battery chemistry produces some challenges to Tesla, from the ethical dilemma of mining for cobalt to the high cost of nickel which recently spiked to 100,000 per metric ton and ironically made the value of an actual nickel coin worth more than a dime.
Things to Consider about NCA Batteries
Currently, the Model S, Model X, and dual motor variants of Model 3 and Model Y are all powered by NCA batteries, which leads to some things to consider when owning any of these vehicles.
90% Max Charge Limit for Daily Driving
First, you only have a 90% max charge limit for daily driving with an NCA battery because that can lead to quicker and more severe battery degradation. Because of this, your daily driving range is only 90% of whatever the actual EPA estimated ranges for your vehicle.
For example, suppose you have a performance Model Y with an estimated range of 303 miles. In that case, you can actually expect about 30 miles less than that for your daily driving. You’ll only charge to 100% when you’re about to go on a long road trip and when you need that full range. I personally charge my Long Range Model 3 to 80% for my daily driving, which is why I’m a big proponent of EVs with at least 300 miles of range because you’re not going to get that full range all the time.
These NCA batteries are also more expensive to manufacture because of the cost of nickel and cobalt which usually leads to the actual vehicles themselves being more expensive. We’ve seen this play out over the past year as Tesla has steadily increased the prices of their dual-motor vehicles with some models increasing by upwards of $10,000. This brings us to the next battery that Tesla recently began using.
Tesla Battery #2
Let’s go through Tesla’s second battery option: Lithium-Iron-Phosphate (LFP). The first Teslas with these batteries were the vehicles made in China, but they have now made their way to Europe and the US. Currently, Tesla says they’re putting LFP batteries in all single-motor models which are now simply called Rear-Wheel-Drive on Tesla’s website. Right now, there is only one vehicle in the US that comes in a rear-wheel-drive option – the base Model 3.
These new rear-wheel-drive models started shipping in late 2021, but there’s a new secret: Model Y could be coming soon, which may have an LFP battery pack.
To check if your Tesla has an LFP battery, open the charging menu on the touchscreen and go to Set Limit. If the battery image displays “50%” and “100%”, your vehicle has an LFP battery. If the battery image displays “Daily” and “Trip”, your vehicle is not equipped with an LFP battery.
What are the Benefits of LFP Compared to NCA?
LFP Tends to be Cheaper
First and foremost, LFP batteries are iron-based. They tend to be cheaper because they contain no nickel or cobalt. Their energy density is lower. These make them an excellent fit for the lower-priced, lower-performing single-motor vehicles while keeping the cost down for both Tesla and the customer. They’re also usually easier and faster to produce.
100% Max Charge Limit for Daily Driving
The other advantage is that you can charge LFP batteries to 100% even for your daily driving without any negative effects on battery degradation, which gives you the maximum estimated range all of the time. This allows most people to get by with a smaller battery pack compared to NCA.
The only downside is that regenerative braking is reduced while driving with a fully charged battery. Hence, until the battery drains a bit, you’ll get a slightly lower driving efficiency. You can daily charge to the maximum capacity because LFP batteries have a memory, which is a weird quirk of battery chemistry and physics. The battery will sort of forget that it can charge beyond a certain limit if you don’t keep reminding it that it can charge up to 100%. It’s kind of strange.
LFP Offers Safety and Longevity
The other advantages of LFP batteries are safety and longevity. In general, lithium-iron-phosphate batteries do not explode or ignite. They’re not entirely exempt from thermal runaway as they share the same structure as lithium-ion batteries, but if a short circuit were to happen, bigger fires are more likely in high nickel batteries because nickel emits more energy than LFP batteries.
LFP chemistry also usually offers a longer cycle life than other lithium-ion chemistries. Under most conditions, it supports more than 3,000 cycles. Under optimal conditions, it supports more than 10,000 cycles which is great if you plan to keep the car for a very long time.
The biggest downsides of LFP batteries are the cold weather effects and weight. They’re heavier than NCA batteries, which will lead to more wear and tear on tires and slightly less efficiency. Their range tends to decrease slightly more in cold temperatures compared to NCA.
Even with these small downsides, you can clearly see why Tesla has implemented these batteries in some other vehicles.
Tesla Battery #3
Last but not least, the most anticipated Tesla battery is the 4680 Tabless cell which was announced in 2020 at Tesla’s Battery Day event. This new battery is expected to change the future of electric cars by massively scaling battery production and producing bigger cells that cost less.
This new battery will have simpler manufacturing and fewer parts with five times the amount of energy, 16% more range, six times the power, and faster Supercharging.
These benefits are the core to what will move Tesla toward their overall mission making their vehicles more affordable, travel further and charge faster. These batteries also come with a brand new vehicle architecture that starts with single-piece castings of high pressure die cast aluminum for the front and rear. These new structural batteries are Tesla’s first ever dual-use-battery, used as an energy device and as a structure to the car. These structural batteries improve mass and range.
When all of this is done, Tesla can cut the price per kWh in half and increase vehicle range by nearly 54%. Tesla’s brand new 1.1 billion dollar factory in Austin will serve as the main hub for producing these new 4680 batteries and the new structural vehicles, of which, the Model Y will be the first vehicle to get these features.
Earlier this year, Tesla confirmed that it had started to produce the Model Y at the Texas Gigafactory. Eventually, it will produce the Cybertruck, Semi Truck, and Model 3. Although there haven’t been any confirmed 4680 deliveries yet, hundreds of Model Ys have recently been spotted in the lots of the Texas Gigafactory, so it should be very soon.
You now know the differences between all three battery chemistries that Tesla is offering this year, so hopefully, you can make a more informed decision on which vehicle you buy.