The building that will — eventually — be the biggest in the world by footprint, and also the largest factory, is finally open for business. Over the weekend, Tesla held the grand opening of its first Gigafactory, inviting press and members of the public alike to celebrate the launch of the production facility that the company needs to build enough cells to create the lithium ion battery packs for its expanding fleet of vehicles.
Distinct from Tesla's existing factory in Fremont, California that currently produces the Model S and Model X — and that will eventually ramp up to build up to 500,000 Model 3 passenger cars per year — the Gigafactory near Reno, Nevada is dedicated entirely to building batteries. Those batteries will go into Tesla's cars and its Powerwall and Powerpack home energy storage systems, and demand will be incredible once the Model 3 enters production with a backlog of hundreds of thousands of cars.
Along with the launch of the new factory, Tesla also revealed the design of a new battery cell that it has been working on for some time, using newer battery chemistry and a size and diameter that optimises the internal capacity against the materials that surround it. Batteries — which are cylindrical because the cathode and anode are deposited in a sheet that is then rolled — are defined by their diameter and length, and the new '21-70' or 21700 battery is both larger and longer than the common 18650 cell already used in Tesla's current cars and countless laptop batteries worldwide.
— Jude Burger (@JudeBurger) July 30, 2016
Jalopnik has an excellent summary of what the Gigafactory means for Tesla and its battery development partner Panasonic; the building, which is only 14 per cent complete and won't have its entire floorplan constructed until well into the next decade, will be capable of producing more batteries per year on its own than the entire world produced in 2014. The final building will have over three times the capacity, but the massive factory that already exists currently employs 800 construction workers alone for ongoing expansion work.
A New York Times interview with Tesla CEO and co-founder Elon Musk and Tesla CTO JB Straubel talks about the necessity of the "ramp" of production — both for the Gigafactory itself and the batteries made inside. The cost of lithium ion batteries is expected by Musk to fall below $US100 per kWh by 2020, and the Gigafactory will produce those batteries "faster than bullets from a machine gun".
On a new Electric Avenue on the outskirts of Reno, the Gigafactory is already producing batteries — and it's only going to get faster as time goes on. Tesla has very ambitiously named the eventually-to-be-largest-building-in-the-world 'Gigafactory 1', pointing to more in the future. Also on display for tour guests was a full-size mockup of a Tesla Model 3, although it was a clay shell built on a wooden frame rather than one of the functioning prototypes that the company demonstrated at the $US35,000 car's unveiling.