A slew of automakers have invested in solid-state EV battery R&D in recent months, and Daimler and Stellantis have jumped into the mosh pit, in collaboration with the US startup Factorial Energy, which claims a 20 to 50% improvement in driving range over regular old lithium-ion batteries. They also claim safety improvements, so what’s not to like?
Everybody Is Talking About A Solid-State EV Battery Now
The idea of a solid-state EV battery has been tantalizing energy storage researchers and auto industry stakeholders for many years, with the allure of a battery that weighs less, costs less, lasts longer, and performs better than a typical lithium-ion EV battery with a liquid or gel electrolyte.
Reduced lifecycle impacts and the potential for squeezing more value out of the global lithium supply is also a consideration.
The devil is in the details, though. Engineering a solid material to do what a liquid does is not as easy as it looks. As recently as 2017, the cost of solid-state lithium-ion batteries seemed prohibitive.
Nevertheless, the US Department of Energy was already anticipating that a solid-state EV battery would soon win the cost-cutting race. By 2019, solid-state batteries were beginning to drift across the CleanTechnica radar, and in May of 2020, the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory had come up with a slim but powerful solid electrolyte composed of a ceramic-based material for function and a plastic material for durability.
“Solid polymer electrolytes are flexible and low cost but have low conductivity while ceramic-based electrolytes offer better conductivity but are too brittle to process,” the lab explained.
Things seem to have happened pretty fast since last then. Ford and BMW announced significant investments in solid-state EV battery technology last spring, and BMW is already touting the sustainability angle of solid-state batteries. Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen are also among the automakers dipping into solid-state technology.
Factorial Energy & The Solid-State EV Battery Of The Future
That brings us to Factorial Energy. The Massachusetts firm is marketing an energy storage technology it calls FEST™ — for Factorial Electrolyte System Technology. The system deploys a proprietary solid electrolyte material that “enables safe and reliable cell performance with high-voltage and high-capacity electrodes at room temperature,” according to the company.
“Battery platforms based on FEST yield 20-50% improvements in driving range without sacrificing pack longevity, and surpass prevailing EV battery performance standards, including those for energy density, cycle life, and safety,” said the company’s Executive Chairman Joe Taylor, formerly of Panasonic.
That remains to be seen. So far, it appears that the R&D phase is ongoing. Factorial notes that it claimed the title of first to demonstrate the scalability of its new solid-state electrolyte earlier this year, by reaching a 40 Amp-hour benchmark at room temperature.
Follow The Money To More & Better Electric Vehicles
Apparently Factorial has achieved enough progress to attract the big bucks. The company emerged from stealth mode in April, and just few months later, in October, it gathered Kia and Hyundai into its investor fold. Now here comes Stellantis (Dodge, Fiat, Chrysler, etc.) and Daimler (the Mercedes-Benz folks) piling on, with great enthusiasm.
“By accelerating our Mercedes-Benz strategy towards ‘Electric Only’, we have set the course for a fully electric future,” said Markus Schäfer of Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz AG. “With Factorial as our new partner, we are taking research and development in the field of promising solid-state batteries to the next level.”
Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares could also barely hide his excitement. “Our investment in Factorial and other highly recognized battery partners boosts the speed and agility needed to provide cutting-edge technology for our electric vehicle portfolio. Initiatives like these will yield a faster time to market and more cost-effective transition to solid-state technology,” he said.
Wait, Did GM Just Pull A Solid-State Switcheroo?
If you caught that thing about faster time to market, that is a key consideration for investors like Daimler and Stellantis. Factorial claims that its FEST technology can be manufactured on mostly the same platform as a conventional EV battery, which would save a considerable amount of time and expense in retooling.
As more jurisdictions restrict or outright ban gasmobiles, the winner of the electric vehicle sales race will be the one bringing the muscle to the manufacturing area, so stay tuned for more on that.
GM, for example, recently invested considerable energy in developing new lithium-ion energy storage technology under its Ultium EV battery line, but it could switch gears pretty fast. As it turns out, the company was hedging its bet with a stake in the Singapore energy storage startup SES Holdings Pte.
SES has not gone full solid-state, at least not yet. However, the company has gone part of the way with a new lithium-metal anode, yielding a battery “big enough to power a car, a sign the newcomer is pulling ahead of rivals in its efforts to commercialize technology that could boost the range of electric vehicles,” Bloomberg reported last month.
SES is pitching its hybrid lithium-metal technology under these claims:
- Projected 400 Wh/kg and 1,000 Wh/L, providing longer driving range to EVs.
- Capable of 80% charge in less than 15 minutes.
- Ultra-thin Li-Metal anode reduces battery weight and production costs.
- Proprietary electrolyte and AI algorithm greatly enhance safety.
- Manufacturable at scale using existing infrastructure and processes.
Onward & Upward For The EV Revolution
Wowzers. Speaking of the manufacturing end of things, how about a new EV battery that practically makes itself?
That’s what could be in store within the next few years, if the Energy Department’s ARPA-E funding office is on the right track.
In January of 2017, ARPA-E awarded $3,650,000 to a partnership between the University of California – San Diego, the University of Maryland, and the lithium-air (yes, air) energy storage firm Liox Power to “develop a self-forming, high temperature solid-state lithium battery that solves the critical cost and performance problems impeding commercialization of solid-state batteries for electric vehicles.”
ARPA-E anticipates a doubling of energy density at half the cost of current lithium-ion technology.
Meanwhile, let’s pause and take note that more and better cars of any sort is not a particularly sustainable solution, regardless of what does or does not come out of their tailpipes.
Converting the global fleet of pollution-belching vehicles to clean technology is a good first step, but our money is on an overhaul of mass transit, manufacturing systems and urban design that provides for more mobility with less use of the precious resources of the Earth.
With that in mind, we’re looking forward to a test ride of the Fuell Flluid-1 e-bike sometime soon.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: Solid-state energy storage for electric vehicles via Factorial Energy.