Has Tesla acquired another innovative battery startup?
Everyone loves a good mystery, especially when it has to do with Tesla and a potential battery breakthrough. In regards to Tesla’s rumored acquisition of a Canadian battery startup, we know just enough to spin an intriguing story (at least we hope you, dear readers, will find it so).
Above: A look at the front of a Tesla (Flickr: davidgsteadman)
Automakers are naturally secretive about their technologies, especially ones that are still in development. Tesla is certainly no exception in this regard, so we won’t expect the company to release any details about this matter any time soon. However, TechCrunch has pieced together enough from publicly available information to indicate that Tesla has acquired Toronto-based Springpower International, the developer of an innovative manufacturing process that could make Tesla’s batteries cleaner and cheaper.
At Tesla’s Battery Day last September, Senior VP of Engineering Drew Baglino described a new process for making nickel metal cathodes. The current process generates large quantities of waste water, which contains bits of metal, ammonia and other toxic chemicals. The new process reuses water and produces little waste. Baglino said it has the potential to reduce operating costs by 75%.
Just a couple of weeks earlier, Tesla purchased a number of patent applications from Springpower International, one of which describes an innovative process similar to the one that Baglino mentioned. In Springpower’s process, “the bulk of the aqueous solution used for the wet chemical reaction can be recycled...so that the total process has little or no effluent generated during production of the cathode precursor material.”
Since then, Springpower’s former web site has disappeared, and several of Springpower’s top techies are now working for Tesla.
Springpower was founded in March 2010, and received a $3.4-million grant from tech incubator Sustainable Development Technology Canada in 2018. James Sbrolla, who mentored the young company and helped it to secure the government grant, told TechCrunch that, although he hasn’t been in contact with Springpower lately, he wasn’t surprised to hear about the rumored Tesla acquisition.
“It’s a group of smart people, no question about it,” Sbrolla told TechCrunch. “Technology like Springpower’s gives tremendous upside with a reduced environmental footprint, and being attached to a larger organization makes scaling much quicker and easier.”
Acquiring Springpower would fit nicely with Tesla’s long-term goal of bringing more of its battery technology in-house. “Now that we have this process, we’re going to start building our own cathode facility in North America,” said Baglino on Battery Day. While the California carmaker will continue to use suppliers such as Panasonic, LG Chem and CATL (for reasons of scale, if nothing else), it is always on the lookout for new ways to make its batteries safer, greener and cheaper.
The new cathode manufacturing process is just one of many incremental improvements Tesla has in store for its batteries (and other components) and the techniques used to make them. Over the next few years, the cumulative results could be nothing short of revolutionary.