Sila Nanotechnologies is one of those battery companies that most folks have never heard of, but it is working with both Mercedes and BMW on batteries that replace the graphite in a battery cell’s anode with silicon. The result is batteries that are both less expensive and more energy dense. The company announced this week it will convert an existing facility in Moses Lake, Washington, to produce 10 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of batteries initially that use the full graphite replacement technology. It says its batteries will be installed in hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles by 2026.
The 600,000-square foot Moses Lake facility will start producing automotive-scale quantities of Sila’s battery tech by the second half of 2024, with full production underway in early 2025, the company said on Tuesday. In addition to partnerships with BMW and Mercedes, it says it is cooperating with other undisclosed companies. That’s according to Gene Berdichevsky, founder and CEO of Sila. He was Tesla’s seventh employee and one of the first to use lithium-ion batteries to power vehicles that started life with an internal combustion engine.
The news comes a day after the Biden administration announced $3.1 billion toward supporting the domestic production of batteries for electric vehicles. A Sila spokesperson told TechCrunch the company is currently reviewing the Department of Energy funds announcement and will likely apply for some of that government money.
While the Washington facility will also produce batteries for consumer electronics, Sila has been working to bring its battery chemistry to electric vehicles for over a decade. Berdichevsky estimates Sila battery technology will make it to EVs sometime between the end of 2025 to the end of 2026, depending on how long it takes automakers to validate the new tech, a process that can take anywhere from 6 to 18 months.
Sila Battery Breakthrough In 2021
Last September, Sila commercialized its next generation battery chemistry for the first time, scaling it beyond pilot quantities. At the time, Sila told TechCrunch it would need to scale 100 times further to have enough material to deploy in cars. Therefore, a new factory would be required.
“Each [of the two] production line[s] on this new plant will be about 100 times the throughput of the existing production line we have in Alameda,” Berdichevsky says. The Alameda production line can produce 15 megawatt-hours of capacity. “It’s a huge step up and allows us to get to automotive scale. The second phase will consist of a fully expanded plant at 150 GWh and that will represent a blueprint for a world-scale plant that we plan to build first in the US, and then copy in Europe and Asia in the future.”
Ultimately, Sila says it may cost up to $2 billion to increase production to as much as 150 GWh a year. “The demand for batteries that we’re going to have by the end of the decade, only about 5% of that capacity exists here domestically,” said Berdichevsky. “So you can either look at this as a huge problem or you can look at it as a massive opportunity. And you either get behind this opportunity or get left behind.”
“The narrative in many ways has been that the U.S. is a laggard in energy and energy transition, and I actually think that’s not correct,” he added, He points to the range of innovation that has come out of US companies, from the sheer existence of Tesla to solar energy ingenuity and fuel cell breakthroughs means. “There’s a huge amount of innovation, but the part where we haven’t done as well is manufacturing. Sila has been an example of that same kind of innovation, except now we’re taking it to the second step and focusing on manufacturing domestically.”
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