Zenlabs Awarded $4.8 Million For Fast-Charging EV Battery Technology Development

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Zenlabs Energy Inc., based in Fremont, California, was recently awarded a $4.8 million dollar contract to develop low-cost, fast-charge EV battery technology. The company is focused on high energy density lithium-ion cell development. One EV adoption obstacle to overcome is long charging times. On its website, Zenlabs references the goal of EV charging in the same time it takes to fill up the tank of a gas-powered vehicle. Michael Sinkula, a Zenlabs co-founder, and the company’s Chief Business Officer, answered some questions for CleanTechnica.

1. Some of the goals mentioned in the press release are developing:

  • novel electrolyte formulations
  • a scalable pre-lithiation method enabling the use of high-capacity silicon oxide anodes
  • optimized cell designs resulting in lithium-ion batteries that can meet USABC LC/FC EV battery goals

At this point, are you free to elaborate a little on each one of those, or is it too early to do that?

Novel Electrolyte Formulations

Zenlabs’ high energy fast charge cells are based on a proprietary silicon-based anode. Zenlabs is developing novel electrolyte formulations tailored to our specific silicon based anode. The novel electrolyte formulations enable lithium diffusion and charge transfer, while creating a stable solid electrolyte interface for improved cycle life.

Scalable pre-lithiation method

In this program, Zenlabs is working on roll to roll pre-lithiation process that can support mass manufacturing at gigawatt hour scale. The scalable pre-lithiation step is a technology that is proprietary to Zenlabs and is critical for cycling high silicon containing anodes and reduce their swelling.

Optimized cell designs

State of the art batteries typically use nickel rich cathode paired with a graphite anode. A few cell makers have started blending graphite with a small percentage of silicon to provide a slight boost in cell energy density. Our optimized cell designs utilize a highly porous anode that includes silicon material content greater than 50 wt.% and a network of carbon nanotubes.

Is the goal eventually to bring to market battery technology that is both more affordable and faster charging?

Yes. There are usually compromises in battery technology. When energy density increases, usually this is at the expense of cycle life and fast charge capability. Yet, all of these performance metrics are important to broader consumer appeal, in addition to cost constraints. All electric vehicles currently utilize an anode that is predominantly or entirely made of graphite anode. These will almost always have a high loading level, high thickness, and low porosity to achieve a higher specific energy (more miles per vehicle), but these are not very capable of fast charging. Conversely our cells are actually more energy dense than current EV cells, yet utilize a porous silicon anode that enables fast charging and long cycle life. And because we are using a manufacturing process that is similar to current lithium battery manufacturing and we have more energy per cell, we are able to have very low costs on a $/kWh basis.

Who are your prospective customers?

We cannot disclose our customers, but the companies involved in the USABC (GM, Ford, and FCA) would be good examples. We also have a customer funded joint development contract with a Tier 1 European EV manufacturer.

What process did you go through to secure the award of the $4.8 million technology development contract?

From time to time, the USABC issues a public RFPI (Requests for Proposal Information) where companies are invited to submit battery technology approaches that will meet the performance goals established by the USABC. Companies are often required to submit cells to the National Laboratories for independent validation.  This allows the USABC team to evaluate a new technology based on over 20 different performance metrics obtained from same set of cells. In our case, the USABC team also visited our cell prototyping facility and observed our roll-to-roll pre-lithiation process (mentioned in your first question). After intense scrutiny, the USABC was supportive of our approach to provide a lower cost battery capable of fast charging. In addition, the current program builds on the success of our previous USABC program where we developed a high energy density battery for EVs and where performance data was generated by the National Laboratories.

How do you collaborate with United States Advanced Battery Consortium LLC (USABC)? Are there regular meetings, progress updates, site visits, etc.?

Collaboration with USABC is of tremendous benefit to any battery maker who wants to commercialize its technology with GM, Ford, & FCA. The current cell suppliers to GM, Ford & FCA have all won USABC awards. There are fixed quarterly meetings, which include visits to our headquarters in California, as well as progress reports and public presentations. Scrutiny and guidance from the GM, Ford & FCA battery teams has been critical in converting our technology into an EV cell product.  In addition, many US National Laboratories are involved, primarily for cell testing and evaluation.

Image Credit: Zenlabs

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Jake Richardson

Hello, I have been writing online for some time, and enjoy the outdoors. If you like, you can follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JakeRsol

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