According to legend, Thomas Edison said the greatest scoundrel is the person who claims to have invented a better battery. Heaven knows CleanTechnica has published dozens (hundreds?) of stories over the year about battery breakthroughs both real and imagined. Swiss startup Innolith says it has done it and in spectacular fashion — a lithium-ion battery with an energy density of 1,000 watt-hours of electricity per kilogram.
Let’s put that into perspective. It is widely believed that Tesla’s latest 2170 lithium ion battery cells produced at its factory in Nevada can store about 250 Wh/kg. The company plans to increase that to 330 Wh/kg as it pursues its goal of being a world leader in battery technology. 1000 Wh/kg batteries would theoretically allow an electric car to travel 600 miles or more on a single charge.
The obverse of that is that cars with 300 miles (483 km) of range would only need batteries that are less than half the size of today’s best batteries. Smaller batteries cost less money, which would allow manufacturers to slash the price of their electric cars. The impact on grid scale energy storage could turn the renewable energy revolution into an earthquake.
Is It Real?
Of course all of you are skeptical of laboratory breakthroughs. When will this magical technology make it into the real world where we can see it, feel it, and taste it? The most amazing thing about this news is that a battery using the Innolith technology is already in service in Hagerstown, Maryland for PJM Grid, which operates the regional utility grid for all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
What has Innolith done that no one could do? According to The Verge, it still uses a “wet” electrolyte like conventional lithium-ion batteries but with a difference. The company has replaced the organic and highly flammable solvent used in lithium-ion batteries today with an inorganic substance that is more stable and less flammable. Here’s how Innolith co-founder Alan Greenshields describes it.
“We take the organic materials out and replace them with inorganic or basically salt-like materials, and that does two things for you. One is it gets rid of your fire risk, so, of course, there’s nothing to burn. And the second part is you’ve also got rid of the most reactive components in the system, which makes it easier to build a battery where you can pack in a lot of energy without the thing becoming unstable.”
Building A Better Battery Ain’t Easy
Greenshields and co-founder Sergey Buchin have tried before to build a better battery and failed. They were the CTO and CEO, respectively, of Swiss-battery maker Alevo, which went bankrupt in 2017 after betting big on a battery factory in the US.
This time around, they will begin with pilot production at their R&D center in Bruschal, Germany followed by licensing partnerships with major battery and automotive companies. Greenshields says full production is probably 3 to 5 years away. Julian Tanner, head of marketing for Innolith, says “We’ve really got a battery breakthrough that will change the landscape forever.”
Pie in the sky? Heard it all before? Perhaps. The part that separates Innolith from all the others who claim to have invented the latest and greatest next new thing in battery storage technology is that is already has one of its batteries installed and operating.
That battery in Hagerstown, Maryland will provide the technical feedback the company needs about long term stability, the number of charging cycles possible with its new technology, and so forth. JPM Grid is not given to flights of fancy. If the battery works for it, that will go a long way toward convincing the skeptics.
The news is filled with reports of battery breakthroughs and people have every reason to have a “wait and see” attitude. But this one feels different. Maybe this is the one we have all been waiting for? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.