Tesla may have paid $3 to buy patents for making cleaner EV batteries

The purchase came weeks before the company's Battery day event.

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When Tesla held its Battery Day presentation last September, the company detailed various manufacturing changes that could halve the cost of making EV batteries over the next couple of years. As one example, Drew Baglino, Tesla's senior vice-president of powertrain and energy engineering, said the company could reduce cathode production costs by more than 75 percent by reusing the water needed to make the component. Months later, we now have a better idea of how Tesla may have obtained the technology for those production techniques.

Public records found by TechCrunch show a small Canadian startup called Springpower International sold several patent applications to Tesla. The automaker purchased those a little over two weeks before Battery Day. Like the manufacturing process Baglino spoke to last year, one of them describes a method for recirculating the chemical solution factories use to make the cathodes for lithium-ion batteries. Additional evidence found by TechCrunch suggests Tesla may have bought the startup outright, not just its patents. On LinkedIn, several Springpower employees, including some of those listed on the company's patent applications, say they now work for the automaker. Tesla, however, hasn't announced any recent acquisitions — and the company doesn't operate a public relations department.

Whether Tesla owns Springpower or not, whatever money it invested in the company is likely to end up cash well spent. At Battery Day, Elon Musk said the developments the company detailed could be enough to allow it to start selling a $25,000 electric car within three years. It also appears Tesla obtained them at a bargain, with one of the documents TechCrunch found showing the automaker paid $3 to purchase the patent applications from Springpower. Keep in mind Tesla may have paid significantly more to acquire the startup, with companies like Ford investing millions to build battery development facilities.

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