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What’s a metal air battery and why is Tesla interested in it?

You probably heard about the metal air battery recently because Tesla was granted around it. But what exactly is it and what does Tesla want with it?
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News broke last week that Tesla was granted a patent for an electric vehicle power train that could use a metal air battery to extend the vehicle’s range. But what I didn’t see in much of the blogger coverage was a deeper analysis of this: what exactly is a metal air battery and why would Tesla be interested in it?

I thought I’d give my take on this since GigaOM has written a bunch about startups and big companies working on metal air batteries, including those that are trying to invent new technologies, and those that are more skeptical of the metal air battery. The technology has been under development for awhile, and a lot of companies have very strong opinions on the technology’s potential.
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