So, it looks like Ford has a secret weapon up its sleeve. While other leading auto makers are leaning on tried and true lithium-ion technology to power their EV lineups, apparently the iconic US auto manufacturer has taken a peek into the future, and it is seeing something called all solid-state batteries.
Solid-State Energy Storage & EV Batteries
We know that Ford is interested in all solid-state technology because the Colorado based company Solid Power just announced that Ford has joined a group of heavy-hitting investors that are putting up the big bucks for a stake in the future of EV battery technology.
Solid Power is a spinoff from research at the University of Colorado at Boulder aimed at improving the range of EV batteries. Not just any old research. A while back this particular project nailed down a $3.4 million grant from the US Department of Energy’s ARPA-E office for supporting cutting edge clean tech.
Why Go Solid State For EV Batteries?
As for why Ford is not satisfied with conventional Li-ion technology, well, in a very, very abstract and general sort of way nobody really is.
The basic problem is that the conventional liquid electrolyte adds an extra layer of engineering (and weight, and cost) to EV batteries. It also places limits on the other types of materials that can be used in the battery.
In 2015, Solid Power crossed the CleanTechnica radar and we noticed that the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory was already zeroing in on the company’s energy storage breakthrough.
Here, let Solid Power toot its own horn:
Our technology is based on combining an exceptionally high capacity cathode with a high capacity lithium metal anode and in combination with a high ionic conductivity solid separator.
Our battery materials are 100-pecent inorganic and possess no flammable or volatile components. Our batteries provide substantially higher energy than conventional lithium ion (2-3X greater) while also enabling lower cost systems due to the potential for eliminating many of the costly safety features typically associated with lithium-ion systems.
More & Better EV Batteries
The cost of energy storage is a significant factor in the wheels-on-the-road cost of an electric vehicle, so if the battery performs as expected this could be a doozy of a zero emission breakthrough.
So, why didn’t anyone think of this sooner?
The University of Colorado has the explainer:
Research into the development of solid-state batteries has gone on for a couple of decades, but it has been difficult to create a solid electrolyte that allowed the ions to pass through it as easily as a liquid electrolyte.
Oh. Okay. So much for the problem. Here’s the Solid Power solution as described by CU:
Instead of using a solid mass of material, Lee and Stoldt [the lead researchers] created a “composite cathode,” essentially small particles of cathode material held together with solid electrolyte and infused with an additive that increases its electrical conductivity. This configuration allows ions and electrons to move more easily within the cathode.
Got all that?
The basic formula is an iron-sulfur mashup the researchers developed at CU.
If this thing hits big, CU would like you to remember that there ain’t no such thing as a self-made man (looking at you, Silicon Valley). Aside from a generous group hug from US taxpayers, Solid Power enjoyed a period of incubation at CU-Boulder as part of the school’s energy systems and environmental sustainability initiative. It is also a member of Rocky Mountain Innosphere nonprofit accelerator.
Solid Power At A Glance
As for specific claims, here’s the rundown from Solid Power:
- 50% higher energy vs. current lithium-ion, which can increase at the module- and pack-level due to design simplicity
- Substantially improved safety due to the elimination of the flammable liquid electrolyte as used in lithium-ion
- Low-cost battery-pack designs through:
- Minimization of safety features
- Simplified thermal management
- High manufacturability due to significant compatibility with automated, industry-standard, roll-to-roll production
That paints a pretty picture and it looks like some peeps up in the C-suites got the picture.
The new venture with Ford is a partnership that will focus on adapting Solid Power’s technology for EV batteries.
They already have a head start because Solid Power already has its first fully automated, roll-to-roll production facility in the works. It should be up and running before you know it, as in sometime before the end of June.
Other backers emerged last year, when the company nailed down $20 million in a Series A investment round that included Ford, Volta Energy Technologies, Hyundai CRADLE, Samsung Venture Investment Corp., Sanoh Industrial Co., Solvay Ventures, and A123 Systems.
Not for nothing, but two years ago Solid Power also let word slip that it has partnered with BMW Group for EV batteries.
CleanTechnica is reaching out to Ford to see if they can say when you can expect the new battery tech to hit the road, so stay tuned.