Tesla’s Gigafactory and the Future of Sustainable Energy

With less than one-third of total facility construction complete, mass production at Tesla’s Reno-based Gigafactory (GF1) has begun. Through a partnership with Panasonic, and staff numbers projected to exceed 6,500 by 2018, Tesla anticipates that GF1 will more than double the capacity of the world’s lithium-ion battery production. Because of its North American location, GF1 also introduces a new variable to the international market for battery cell production, which is currently dominated by Asian manufacturing companies.

Tesla’s GF1 is powered entirely by sustainable energy and releases zero carbon emissions. This feat is achieved through the use of ground-mounted solar installations, and what will be a record-breaking rooftop solar array. An 11.5 MW array located in India is currently the world’s largest; however, at 70 MW, Tesla’s rooftop array will be over six times its size.

In addition, waste heat will be recovered from production machines and recycled to provide a large portion of GF1’s central heating system. It will also be equipped with on-site water treatment facilities that will reduce fresh water usage up to 80 percent, and a battery cell recycling program.

Once construction is complete, GF1 will be the second largest building in the world by volume (~13 million m3), second only to Boeing’s Everett, Washington facility (~13.3 million m3); and at 5.5 million ft2, it will have the largest physical footprint.

Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, has stressed that GF1 should be thought of as a product in itself—with an astute attention to detail at the forefront of its design. Automation is in abundance, and flexibility and scalability are key. Musk has also indicated that once complete, the facility could again expand 50-100 percent in size. In addition, a decision regarding the exact location of a European gigafactory (GF2) is expected later this year.

Not only is GF1 a revolution in its own regard, it has the potential to advance production and sustainable energy capabilities throughout the world. GF1 was created with the intent of being replicated both by Tesla and other large corporations. It is predicted that it will take just 100 gigafactories to eradicate the world’s reliance on fossil fuels and transition it to sustainable energy. While Tesla does not have the capability to do this on its own, if other companies follow suit, the transition towards a healthier planet would be significantly accelerated.

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