When Elon Musk stood onstage at Tesla’s Battery Day in September and promised to reduce lithium-ion battery costs in half, he claimed a number of the financial savings would come from reinventing the soiled and complicated course of of constructing their nickel steel cathodes.
“It’s insanely sophisticated, like digging a ditch, filling it in and digging the ditch once more,” he mentioned on the occasion. So we regarded on the complete worth chain and mentioned how can we make this so simple as doable?”
The best route seems to contain a small Canadian battery startup — or a minimum of its patent purposes.
Two weeks earlier than Battery Day, Tesla bought various patent purposes from Springpower Worldwide, a small firm primarily based simply outdoors Toronto, for a grand complete of $3, in keeping with public information.
A kind of purposes particulars an progressive course of just like one which Drew Baglino, Tesla’s senior vice-president of engineering, described onstage at Tesla’s manufacturing facility in Fremont, California, on Battery Day. Shopping for the patent software implies that when the patent itself was lastly granted in January, it was issued to Tesla, with no point out of Springpower.
Manufacturing cathodes for electrical automobile batteries historically generates massive portions of contaminated water — as much as 4,000 gallons containing ammonia, steel particles and poisonous chemical substances for each ton of cathode materials produced. Springpower’s course of cleverly recirculates the chemical answer, eradicating the necessity for costly water therapy.
Baglino’s presentation additionally depicted a way that reuses water and produces no effluent. Along with reducing operational prices by greater than 75%, he mentioned: “We will additionally use that very same course of to straight eat the steel powder popping out of recycled electrical automobile and grid storage batteries.”
It now appears probably that Tesla could have purchased extra than simply Springpower’s mental property. Per week earlier than Battery Day, Springpower Worldwide’s web site was changed by a single holding web page. And within the months since then, a number of Springpower researchers have altered their LinkedIn profiles to point that they’re now working at Tesla.
Springpower Worldwide CEO Michael Wang, whose personal LinkedIn web page now options dozens of updates from Tesla staffers (together with Baglino), didn’t reply to a request for remark, and calls to the corporate’s switchboard went unanswered.
A senior Springpower Worldwide govt reached by cellphone would neither affirm nor deny Tesla’s buy, and referred TechCrunch to Tesla’s public affairs group. (Tesla not has a press workplace, and emails to the corporate didn’t obtain a reply.)
Springpower Worldwide was based in March 2010, partly by Chinese language battery agency Highpower Worldwide, as a analysis arm for its Springpower subsidiary in Shenzen. However Highpower walked away from Springpower Worldwide inside six months, writing off a $100,000 funding after deciding its applied sciences have been too removed from commercialization.
James Sbrolla, an “entrepreneur in residence” at a Canadian government-funded program, stepped in to mentor the younger firm. He helped it safe some small grants, and finally a $3.4 million (Canadian) sustainable know-how award in 2018. Nonetheless, he advised TechCrunch that he has not talked to anybody at Springpower Worldwide since late 2020.
Sbrolla was not stunned to listen to that the corporate might need been bought.
“It is a group of sensible individuals, no query about it,” Sbrolla mentioned. “Know-how like Springpower’s offers large upside with a decreased environmental footprint, and being connected to a bigger group makes scaling a lot faster and simpler.”
If, as appears probably, Springpower Worldwide has been acquired by Tesla, it could be part of solely a dozen or so others, together with one other Canadian battery firm, Hibar, purchased in comparable stealth in 2019.
Elon Musk has lengthy regarded north of the border for lithium-ion battery experience. In 2015, Tesla signed a five-year unique partnership with Jeff Dahn, a number one battery researcher and professor at Dalhousie College in Nova Scotia. Dahn is known as on a variety of current Tesla battery patents, and in January Tesla renewed Dahn’s contract for an additional 5 years.
Musk is on a years-long push to carry battery manufacturing in-house and reduce Tesla’s reliance on its present suppliers (Panasonic, LG Chem and CATL). “Now that we now have this course of, we will begin constructing our personal cathode facility in North America,” mentioned Baglino on Battery Day.
Musk added that the mixed advantages of Tesla’s new battery applied sciences may allow a $25,000 automobile, however cautioned to not anticipate an excessive amount of, too quickly: “It is going to take us most likely a 12 months to 18 months to start out realizing these benefits, and three years or thereabouts to completely notice them.”
Maybe by that point, Springpower Worldwide’s position can be somewhat clearer.