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Culture / Cars

A Billionaire Builds the Biggest Building in the World — and He’s Just Getting Started

A Look at Tesla’s Mind-Blowing Gigafactory

BY Jim Shi // 08.19.16

Very few automotive companies have a welcome logo that’s 40 feet tall. Then again, very few manufacturers are like Tesla.

The Fremont, California-based electric car behemoth broke ground on its Nevada factory in June of 2014, and already it’s more than a mile long. As Tesla accelerates its global presence and expands its portfolio of vehicles, it is rapidly ramping up its support system — making a huge statement with its Gigafactory.

Tesla has ambitious plans for its production: with more than 140,000 vehicles already on the road, the company founded by Elon Musk has plans to produce 500,000 cars by 2018. Helping make those lofty goals a reality is the ability to produce ready cells and packs ahead of vehicle production. By 2018, Tesla plans to produce more lithium ion batteries annually than were produced worldwide in 2013.

By maximizing output, Tesla will be able to minimize price the price per battery unit. This mathematic equation is largely being spurred on and supported by the recent introduction of the more price-friendly Model 3. There are around 375,000 orders for the new model, and the Gigafactory will be working overtime to produce enough batteries for the entire breadth of Tesla vehicles, which also includes the Model S and Model X.

A Tesla in every driveway? (Photo courtesy Jalopnik)
A Tesla in every driveway? (Photo courtesy Jalopnik)

The facility’s first phase, dubbed Gigafactory 1, opened recently, so let’s take a look at it.

Situated on 3,200 acres, the Tesla Gigafactory, at 5.8 million square feet in size, is the biggest building in the world by footprint and the second largest building in the world by total square footage. That’s equivalent to roughly 107 football fields.

While the ground was broken in June 2014, the first phase of structural steel construction didn’t begin until December 2014. The current structure has an 800,000-square-foot footprint. Including several levels, the factory today comprises about 1.9 million square feet of operational space. This represents about 14 percent of the total finished Gigafactory.

Tesla is building the factory in phases, an effort to maximize production efficiency and minimize delays. Nevadans currently average 70 percent of the construction workforce at the Gigafactory and 94 percent of the employee workforce. The Gigafactory will employ as many 6,500 people at full production.

The areas under construction at the south end of the factory total 2.5 million square feet and will house even more cell manufacturing. In less than one year, these sections will be complete and producing cells. With a flexible format, the production line is highly amenable to changes inside the factory as battery technology and architecture evolve over the next decades.

By the end of the first year of volume production of the Model 3, in 2018, Tesla is confident the Gigafactory will have driven down the per kilowatt-per-hour cost of its battery pack by more than 30 percent.

The Gigafactory will consume no fossil fuels. No natural gas is piped to the site, and no diesel generators are in use. The entire roof of the factory will be covered in solar panels. To use water efficiently, the Gigafactory will have its own recycling and treatment facility. Battery production has already begun, in the form of Tesla Powerwalls and Powerpacks, which are meant for stationary energy storage for a home or a business. Inside, 38-foot high battery production machines stretch for nearly 300 feet in length,while massive dry rooms will keep the humidity at levels below than one percent.

While this ambitious endeavor is largely to support the voracious number of batteries to meet the demands of one model—namely the Model 3 —Tesla’s sophomore Master Plan alludes to pickup trucks, semis, and a full range of vehicles.

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