Everyone expects solid state batteries to be the next big thing in EV technology. While they may offer higher energy densities and lower costs, the main reason researchers all over the globe are rushing to perfect solid state batteries is because they will virtually eliminate the battery fires that have plagued automakers since the EV revolution began. Tesla has had its troubles with battery fires in the past. Lately, Hyundai, Kia, and Chevrolet have had similar troubles with battery cells manufactured by LG Chem, now called LG Energy Solution.
It takes a long time to bring new technology out of the laboratory and into production. Volkswagen has made a major investment in Quantumscape, Ford and BMW have made similar investments in Solid Power, and Toyota is said to be busy perfecting its own solid state batteries. All of them are looking at 2025 as the time when they will be finally ready to install in production cars.
Doug Campbell, CEO of Solid Power, told TechCrunch in a recent interview that his company wants to be a leader in solid state electrolytes that replace the semi-liquid paste used in most lithium-ion batteries today. It is increasing the size of its factory in Colorado so it can install a new production line to make its latest commercial grade, 100 ampere solid state batteries. Ford and BMW, both of whom have invested in Solid Power, will be the first companies to use them in actual electric vehicles starting next year.
The new production facility will allow the company to produce 25 times more sulfide-based solid electrolyte material than is possible today in its existing facility. The new pouch cells are expected to go to Ford and BMW for automotive testing in early 2022, with the aim of getting them into driver-ready vehicles by the latter half of this decade.
The company says the benefits of its new technology include increased energy density, reduced costs, and longer battery life. But that’s not all. “We believe very strongly that these issues (battery fires) that both Hyundai and GM are now facing would be addressed with a solid state battery,” Campbell says.
Solid Power plans to only produce the electrolyte material and license it to OEMs and battery manufacturers. “Long term, we’re a materials company,” Campbell says. “We want to be the industry leader in solid electrolyte materials.” That means further expansion of the Colorado factory will likely not be necessary in the future, as the new production line will produce enough to supply multiple OEMs with cells for automotive qualification testing. The expectation is that large scale production will be the job of automakers and battery cell producers.
The decision to license the battery cells to partners, rather than produce them all in-house, is an asset-light model born from commonsense, Campbell says. “Let’s face it, what’s the probability that little Solid Power is going to grow up and displace the likes of Panasonic, LG, or CATL?” Some companies like Sweden’s Northvolt are going in that direction, but Campbell says the margins are higher in the materials business and don’t involve direct competition with global behemoths like CATL and other global battery manufacturers. “It’s capital-light but it’s also realistic,” he says.
The startup said in June it would go public via a $1.2 billion reverse merger with blank-check firm Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corp. III. The transaction, which is anticipated to generate around $600 million in cash, should give the company enough funds through 2026 or 2027, Campbell said.
Low Cost Cathodes Are Next
Solid Power doesn’t plan on stopping at electrolyte production, however. Campbell dropped hints in the interview that the company is also at work developing a low cost cathode material — one that contains no nickel or cobalt, which are two of the costliest raw battery materials. “[The industry] is going to be dominated by the cost of materials and the cost of materials is going to be dominated by the cost of that nickel and cobalt containing cathode material,” he said. “This particular chemistry that we’ll be disclosing later this year is extremely low cost, We’re talking 1/20th, 1/30th the cost of today’s [nickel manganese cobalt cathodes].” If Solid Power can pull that off, that will really turbocharge the EV revolution.
Redwood Materials is also intent on being a major player in the battery materials game and will derive most of those materials by recapturing them from existing batteries. It says it can recover up to 98% of the lithium, cobalt, and nickel in those old batteries so they can be used to make new batteries without the need to extract more of the minerals from the Earth. Volkswagen has just announced it is building a sophisticated new battery research center where it will be able to test new materials and technologies like those being promoted by Solid Power.
In sum, the transition to electric cars is picking up speed. It took a century to perfect the internal combustion engine, but progress on building affordable, reliable electric cars is moving much faster than that. Which is a good thing. The Earth can’t wait for humans to find ways to live without polluting the planet more than they have done already.
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