The Nikola Motor Company dropped a bomb on the electric vehicle industry today with news of a pending acquisition of a team that has developed next generation battery technology. The news comes with claims of a cathode with 4 times the energy density of today’s lithium-ion cells, lasts for 2,000 cycles, and at a cell cost of 50% less than today’s lithium-ion cells.
If Nikola can bring a battery with these specs to market and produce them at scale, the implications to not just the world of electric vehicles, but to the entire automotive industry and to the world of stationary energy storage would be profound. But that’s a big if. Thanks to unprecedented investment in battery research and design, prototype batteries and breakthroughs in the lab happen nearly every week, but they don’t always translate into real world improvements.
In this case, Nikola’s outspoken CEO Trevor Milton feels the company has found the real deal with news that it has filed a letter of intent to acquire the team that developed the new tech. The acquisition is not finalized at this point, but Milton hopes to announce more details surrounding the breakthrough at Nikola World next fall.
For now, here’s what we know:
- Cathode with 4x the energy density of lithium-ion
- Prototype achieved 2,000 cycles in testing with “acceptable” end-of-life performance
- Cost 50% less to produce next generation cells per kWh compared to lithium-ion
- Weighs 40% less than same capacity of lithium-ion cells
- Prototype cell achieved 500 watt-hours capacity
“This is the biggest advancement we have seen in the battery world,” said Trevor Milton, CEO, Nikola Motor Company. “We are not talking about small improvements; we are talking about doubling your cell phone battery capacity. We are talking about doubling the range of BEVs and hydrogen-electric vehicles around the world.”
Batteries are the glue that holds the worlds of electric vehicles, renewables, and distributed generation together. While lithium-ion batteries have continued to improve in energy density and cost at a steady pace in recent years, the broader industry has had its sights set on the next generation battery cell technology. Nikola’s new team has developed a prototype cell that delivers on the promises of future battery technologies, with an energy density of 1,100 watt-hours per kilogram for the material and 500 watt-hours per kilogram when rolled into a cell.
Bringing 500 watt-hour cells to market would be a nice bump in energy density and at a lower cost than batteries going into production electric vehicles today. The path to market for the new battery tech is not going to be an easy one as Nikola will need to build or license manufacturing capacity for the new cells. It is exactly this bump in the road that mainstream automakers are wrestling with now as the Chinese battery manufacturing engine continues to spool up to fill the need. Indeed, to meet its needs at its Shanghai Gigafactory, even Tesla contracted out the supply of battery cells.
Nikola plans to share the intellectual property (IP) for the new batteries with OEMs that contribute to a new battery consortium. The move has the potential to catapult not only Nikola, but the world of automobiles into electric vehicles at a rapid clip. It shows that Nikola sees the need for battery cell standards that stretch beyond its walls and into the broader industry to achieve the manufacturing scale required to bring the cost down for everyone.
Not that Nikola is planning to just give the tech out for free. It has big aspirations for itself, with customer discussions about orders that would propel it into the upper echelon of truck manufacturers. “Nikola is in discussions with customers for truck orders that could fill production slots for more than ten years and propel Nikola to become the top truck manufacturer in the world in terms of revenue,” Milton said. “Now the question is why not share it with the world?”
Of course, Nikola must first establish its own manufacturing presence that can keep pace with the lengthy list of heavy truck manufacturers aggressively moving into zero emission trucking including Mercedes, Volvo, BYD, Tesla, to name a few.
The details of the new battery deal have yet to be shared, but for now, it is clear Milton and his team at Nikola see promise in batteries in their hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric vehicles alike. The world will have to wait until next fall to see them in action as Nikola plans to showcase the batteries charging and discharging at Nikola World 2020.