Could This Save Tesla From Flaming Out?

Photo credit: Tesla

Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) has come under fire of late after a couple of its batteries caught burst into flames. While the company doesn't believe this is anything to fear, it certainly is something to keep tabs on.

This is not a problem that's unique to Tesla. Both General Motors' (NYSE: GM  ) Chevy Volt, and Boeing's (NYSE: BA  ) Dreamliner 787, have been hurt by fires that were linked to the batteries. It's a risk these manufacturers are still trying to mitigate.

At present, the fire risk is being managed by tweaking the structural design to allow for more cooling. However, the real issue could just be the lithium-ion battery itself. It contains a flammable liquid electrolyte. According to the MIT Technology Review, if these get too hot, that heat can be the trigger for chemical reactions that could cause the electrolytes to burst into flames.

While that risk can be mitigated, it can't yet be eliminated. That said, a new battery technology is currently being developed that could not just mitigate that risk, but eliminate it completely. That's because this new battery technology uses non-toxic, non-flammable electrolyte ingredients.

This new zinc-air battery technology is being developed by privately held EOS Energy Storage. The company is also currently focusing on a battery innovation that could revolutionize our power grid. However, it's the company's EOS EV Range Extender that could prove to be a real breakthrough for companies like Tesla and GM.

The company has rebuilt the zinc-air battery that's commonly used in everyday items such as hearing aids. It uses readily available materials such as zinc, and an electrolyte ingredient that's also used in toothpaste. Because the materials it uses are readily available, it can produce its batteries for a very low cost. In fact, its batteries will cost about $12,000 vs. $70,000 for an equivalent lithium-ion battery.

Its zinc-air Range Extender wouldn't replace the lithium-ion battery completely. Instead, it would be used in combination with either a lithium-ion battery, or a lead acid battery, in order to extend the range of the electric car. EOS believes it can more than double the range on an average EV, while at the same time reducing the cost of the car by several thousand dollars.

That said, EOS is a long way off from being the next big thing in EV batteries. The company is still currently looking for partners to help it develop its proprietary EV battery. However, with the market for electric-vehicle batteries expected to more than double by 2025, it's a pretty compelling opportunity to keep an eye on. Breakthroughs such as this could one day enable companies like Tesla and GM to make EVs that are cheaper and safer.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 1:38 PM, JouniValkonen wrote:

    Typically there is no such thing as disruptive innovation, but technological progress is always gradual and the bulk of the advances comes due to economy of scale. Technological progress may be exponential (see e.g. Moore's and Swanson's Laws), but it is not disruptive. Therefore I would say that it is better to be a skeptic towards EOS' claims.

    However there was just utterly gross mistake in the article. EV battery markets are certainly not expected to double by 2025. But EV battery markets are expected to grow in order of 300 % annual growth rates and e.g. Elon Musk predicts that more than half of the all cars sold are fully electric in 2025. That is 50 million EVs sold per year. Today it is less than 500k, so we can expect 100 fold increase of EV markets by 2025.

    Also battery storage markets are expected to get bigger exponentially. It is hard to say which are bigger markets by 2025 — grid storage or EV battery markets? Both of them will at least double every year.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 1:50 PM, sanjath wrote:

    Wow, put Tesla in every headline and "fools" will dig in? Seriously.... ? Technology is so nascent, I cannot even connect the dot from this to the EV in general, but headline connects it directly to Tesla. Something is wrong with our way of looking for news and tired of that being misused by these idiots.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 3:05 PM, EquityBull wrote:

    If half of all cars sold were fully electric like Musk is predicting we have a serious electric power grid infrastructure issue to completely fix and address in the next 10 years. Right now during peak times you can't even handle AC units running in many cities. Now imagine trying to dump 50AMP and 100AMP circuits in homes or much higher amps from hyper charging stations into half the millions of cars sold here in the USA? Sorry the utility companies won't be fixing the grid to handle this sort of demand in 10 years.

    Also right now utilities are getting shot down for rate hikes despite growing costs in building new plants and costs to maintain the current grid. They won't be dumping even more money into grid upgrades without major breaks from Uncle Sam and/or some friendlier board of utility decisions to hike rates on consumers to pay for it all.

    So maybe a typical persons electric bill goes up $100/month from rate hikes and another $40/month from charging their car. Now they are paying $1500 more (possibly even double that due to inflation, energy costs, etc) in 10 years. That was the equivalent of 500 gallons to 1000 gallons of gas. At typical 30MPG for average car today that is 15,000 to 30,000 miles depending where all these numbers fall.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 6:47 PM, JouniValkonen wrote:

    EquityBull, actually electric cars are good for the grid, because they help even out the peak load. 97 % of EV charging is off-peak charging and hence there is no need anymore for expensive off-peak electricity generation. This will lead into collapse of retail prices of electricity.

    And also if electric cars become viable as Musk predicts, then it would mean that also grid level battery storage is viable option and the peak load leveling can be done with batteries.

    Wind and Solar are getting cheaper all the time and with battery storage and electric vehicles, they become also competitive.

    Tesla superchargers are solar powered and there is large enough battery storage. Hence there is no need for direct multi-megawatt connection into grid.

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2013, at 2:15 PM, me2dumb4college wrote:

    Jouni beat me to the off-peak charging point.

    I hate how this article makes it sound as though the battery failed and burst into flames. This was not the case in any of the reported fires. All 3 vehicles had substantial damage to the vehicle. In no way is it similar to the Dreamliner incident. Nor is the Tesla battery similar to the A123 systems the Volt uses.

    Finally, zinc-air batteries are not rechargeable. You fail to mention this.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zinc%E2%80%93air_battery

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