Tesla has acquired California-based supercapacitor maker Maxwell Technologies, in a deal that has been reported to be in the area of $288 million in stock. What Tesla has shared is that the deal included stock together with cash in lieu of any fractional shares of Tesla common stock.
The move is an interesting one, to say the least, as Tesla has already invested heavily in its Powerwall home energy storage system and, while supercapacitors have much higher power in terms of rate of charge and discharge than lithium-ion batteries, they have much lower storage capability than similarly sized batteries.
The idea behind the acquisition may be less about the company and more about how the company does what they do. Maxwell makes their supercapacitors using a proprietary electrode process. This process works by turning bits of Teflon into very fine filaments, which are mixed in with particles of active anode or cathode material. This results in a self-supporting film of anode or cathode electrode material.
Technical details aside, what this means for Tesla is that if this process can be worked into the company’s lithium-ion batteries, it will produce batteries with a greater energy density. More importantly, this would enable Tesla to make batteries without the traditional process of lithium being stored in cathode material and requiring electrolytes for the initial charge.
This is important is because it would eliminate solid-electrolyte interphase, which is the parasitic reaction of lithium-ions being lost during initial charging due to the structure of battery construction. In short, with this technology, Tesla has the potential to reduce energy loss in its batteries.
Then again, the acquisition could be for reasons entirely independent of Maxwell’s proprietary electrode process; This is Elon Musk’s company we’re talking about, and the ink is barely even dry on the agreement, so at this point, speculation is the best that we have. Hopefully a tweet will come along in the near future explaining the methodology behind the acquisition, but maybe not, as it seems Elon has time only for more important things at the moment.