Building the world's biggest lithium ion battery plant

Due to open this Summer, the Gigafactory in Nevada, US, includes controlled environments that will provide sustainable vehicle developer, Tesla, with the battery cells to power its Model 3 cars

Artist's impression of the factory: Photo courtesy of Tesla

The Gigafactory is being created to manufacturing the volumes of of long-range battery packs required by sustainable vehicle producer, Tesla, for its mass market electric vehicles.

With a planned production rate of 500,000 battery powered cars per year in the latter half of this decade, Tesla alone will require today’s entire worldwide production of lithium ion batteries.

Construction on the Gigafactory began in 2014 outside Sparks, Nevada and the company expects to begin cell production in 2017. By 2020, the Gigafactory will reach full capacity and produce more lithium ion batteries annually than were produced worldwide in 2013.

The Gigafactory name comes from the factory’s planned annual battery production capacity of 35GWh.

The initial plans unveiled for the facility just north of Reno, were for a 1,000-acre facility. But because the demand for Tesla’s static energy products has risen and its Model 3 pre-order numbers have soared, the California company has decided to expand its plans.

The Gigafactory site will cover an area greater than 3200 acres (13km2), with initially a 1.9m ft2 (177,000 m2) of operational space, arguably making it the world’s biggest building by footprint.

The Gigafactory will be managed by Tesla, with Panasonic joining as the principal partner responsible for lithium-ion battery cells whose production will occupy approximately half of the planned manufacturing space; key suppliers combined with Tesla's module and pack assembly will comprise the other half of this fully integrated industrial complex.

Panasonic will manufacture and supply cylindrical lithium-ion cells and it has invested in the associated equipment, machinery, and other manufacturing tools. Tesla will take the cells and other components to assemble the battery modules and packs.


FACTORY STATS

• Capacity: annual battery production of 35GWh

• Total site area: greater than 3200 acres

• Factory space: initially 1.9m ft2 (177,000 m2)

• ISO Class: Dry rooms for lithium ion battery production are typically ISO Class 7 to 6

• Dry room parameters: <1–10% RH and Dew Point of -40° to -50°F


The huge factory is shaped like a diamond (to reduce groundworks) and is aligned on true north so that the engineers can map out using Global Positioning System (GPS) where the equipment is going to be.

The facility will be run on energy produced by solar panels on the roof, as well as geothermal and wind power systems.

When constructing a lithium ion battery plant, several of the assembly steps require cleanroom, cleaning areas and packaging areas that ensure the substrates do not contribute contamination to the process.

Because of the reactive nature of lithium with moisture in the air, lithium battery manufacturing also requires specialised ‘dry rooms’.

Specific requirements for such rooms can vary but would typically be ISO Class 7–6 cleanroom, with below 1–10% Relative Humidity and a Dew Point of -40° to -50° Fahrenheit.

Panasonic employees will be involved in training local staff to ensure that the Gigafactory’s controlled environments are constructed and operated correctly.

Tesla projects that the Gigafactory as a whole will employ about 6,500 people by 2020.