Gigafactory Nevada is about 30% complete. Rumors suggest Tesla is keen to build the rest of the facility. Production of the Tesla Semi also seems to be done at the factory, though this will soon move elsewhere. Tesla has started battery recycling as it pushes for sustainable production. While other plants are grabbing headlines, Gigafactory Nevada is still a significant location and may soon get much bigger.
Tesla’s Gigafactory near Reno, Nevada, is the company’s first giant EV battery and parts plant. Gigafactory 1, or Gigafactory, as it’s also known, came before any of its other large-scale manufacturing sites. The location is used to make batteries for most of the company’s vehicles and other components.
Gigafactory Nevada: A Major, Unfinished Project
Tesla broke ground on Gigafactory Nevada in 2014 in partnership with Panasonic, which rents part of the facility. The facility covers 1.9 million square feet. Its interior has multiple levels. The EV automaker says only 30% of the facility is complete.
Directly expanding on those figures means the fully finished factory would cover 6.3 million square feet and house 17.6 million square feet of the manufacturing floor. Of course, the actual expansion is unlikely to be exactly linear. The total building footprint or manufacturing space could expand out of sync. This could happen if, for example, part of the factory had more or fewer floors than the current three levels. Regardless, the entire expansion, if ever completed, could make the structure the planet’s biggest building.
Even just partially constructed Gigafactory Nevada is a major presence in the EV world. As far back as 2018 the single facility was on course to manufacture 60% of Earth’s entire EV battery production. With more capacity added, the site will be able to support Tesla’s manufacture of millions of electric vehicles annually. This doesn’t even consider the manufacturing capacity at other Gigafactory locations.
What’s Happening at Gigafactory Nevada
With a facility as large as Gigafactory Nevada, it’s possible to have multiple major production efforts under one roof. Here’s a look at what this Gigafactory is doing right now.
Gigafactory Nevada’s central role has always been making Tesla EV batteries. While Gigafactory Shanghai supplies many of Tesla’s China battery needs, Nevada makes the powertrains for EVs from most other locations. The site manufactures Tesla’s 2170 battery cells on 14 individual production lines. The company expects its output to reach 105 GWh (gigawatt hours) of batteries soon, eventually achieving 150 GWh per year.
Recently leaked audio from a Gigafactory Nevada executive meeting reveals the facility’s sheer manufacturing power. Quarterly production for a recent 2022 quarter reached 283,000 EV battery packs or more than a million per year. Weekly production was stable at 9,000 or more batteries. Nevada is also building 6,500 Tesla Powerwalls weekly, with manufacturing accelerating. The Powerwall is a home solar energy storage unit first launched in 2015 with a very low volume.
Giga Nevada currently makes Tesla’s 3.9-MW capacity Megapacks, huge storage batteries used at power stations and not in EVs. This may soon change with the launch of Tesla’s Lathrop, California Megafactory. The Megafactory exists to produce nothing but Megapacks, with a planned capacity of 40 GWh annually, Electrek reports. The factory is already building 25 individual Megapacks daily, and production continues ramping up. It’s unknown if the company will continue manufacturing Megapacks in Nevada or move production elsewhere. Nevada is currently constructing 442 Megapacks each quarter, with output increasing sharply.
The Tesla Semi
Tesla is also using Giga Nevada as the building site for its first Tesla Semi EV trucks. The company renewed its interest in the Semi after the enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act. The Act offers up to a $40,000 per-truck tax credit for EV commercial vehicles, making electric semi trucks economically viable. Lawmakers freed businesses from many complex rules currently limiting individual access to EV passenger car tax breaks. Tesla is now preparing to deliver its first Tesla Semis in December, with many more to come.
It’s unclear if Tesla is building the Semi at the main Nevada facility or a building nearby, but production is seemingly underway. Gigafactory Nevada’s Semi building capacity is just five trucks weekly or 250 per year. As a result, Nevada manufacture is only temporary, with Elon Musk saying Gigafactory Texas will soon take over. This move, Musk claims, will boost the volume to about 50,000 trucks annually.
While Gigafactory 1 may make some Semis, this could be a vital stopgap. Tesla can use the facility’s output to fill early deliveries while Gigafactory Texas is tooling up for full-scale fabrication.
Tesla recycles and rebuilds old batteries in the Gigafactory. The factory began recycling in 2019 when the first Tesla Model S cars reached their 7-year battery life limit. Before that, Tesla outsourced the limited amount of recycling it needed to do to other companies. The factory heralds large-scale battery replacement of aging Tesla EVs.
Nevada’s battery recycling serves two purposes at the same time. It helps curb waste and prevents highly toxic minerals like cobalt from ending up in the environment, making Tesla more eco-friendly. The company also makes money recovering pricey raw materials from existing batteries. Tesla says the project extracts steel, aluminum, copper, lithium, and cobalt from the defunct power packs. Its 2019 environmental statement describes recycling as “a compelling solution to move energy supply away from the fossil-fuel-based practice of take, make, and burn.” It added it plans to use the materials “over and over again.”
The Economist notes circular manufacturing like Tesla’s in Nevada is a growing trend among EV makers. It says 40% of an EV battery’s cost comes from the materials in the cathode, such as manganese and cobalt. Recovering these represents significant savings. Graphite from the anode is unsuitable to further battery making but can be repurposed for other consumer products.
Tesla’s recycling initiative could have legal ramifications The European Union already plans to require the use of some recycled battery materials in new EV batteries by 2030. Similar American regulations are possible, but Tesla has already “gotten out in front” of regulations with its Nevada recycling operation.
Gigafactory Nevada’s Future
Tesla might shift some production – of Megapacks and Semis – elsewhere, but Gigafactory Nevada still has a future. After a five-year hiatus, Tesla appears to be preparing for the long-awaited Giga 1 expansion. Unnamed people inside the company have told news outlets it will soon add another chunk of factory space. Tesla is on a construction and expansion binge at its other plants, so it’s plausible Nevada will get enlarged, too.
The strongest indication Tesla is on the brink of greatly expanding Gigafactory Nevada comes from a recent emission application. CarBuzz reports Tesla applied to change Giga Nevada’s emissions classification from Class II to Class I. The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection’s air quality classifications limit the pollutants a factory can release yearly. Gigafactory 1’s current Class II permit enables it to release less than 25 tons of air pollutants yearly. It also limits release of any regulated pollutant to under 100 tons annually. Winning a Class I permit enables the factory to exceed those limits legally.
With the ability to increase its emissions past current thresholds, Tesla’s Gigafactory Nevada looks poised to get bigger than ever. Its expansion from the original planned footprint will make the Tesla plant among the largest manufacturing plants.