Mercedes says a version of its battery-electric G Class will use cells from Sila. It was just a few weeks ago that we reported on Sila, a little known battery startup founded by Gene Berdichevsky. He was Tesla’s seventh employee and the person who first installed lithium-ion laptop batteries into a Lotus sports car. The company has been working for the past 10 years on replacing the conventional graphite anodes in today’s lithium-ion batteries with silicon alternatives.
Theoretically, the silicon substitutes provide greater energy density and faster charging at lower cost — at least in the lab. But in practice, they become brittle and lose their effectiveness after multiple charge and discharge cycles. Sila thinks it has solved that problem and announced recently it is converting an existing facility in Moses Lake, Washington, to start producing the new battery cells, with the first of them to start rolling of the production line in 2024.
That date is fortuitous, because Mercedes announced this week that an extended range version of its battery-electric G Class — which is due out in 2025 — will be powered by battery cells supplied by Sila. Batteries with higher energy density will be crucial for a truck-like vehicle that has the aerodynamics of shipping container. Mercedes made a significant investment in Sila in 2019, an investment that may pay off by allowing the company to offer electric vehicles with longer range than those manufactured by its competitors.
The Sila factory will be able to build 10 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of silicon anode batteries annually at first — enough for 100,000 to 500,000 cars, depending on how its customers elect to use them. Berdichevsky tells TechCrunch the factory in Washington can be expanded to produce 150 GWh of batteries, but it will cost up to $2 billion to reach that mark.
TcehCrunch claims raising that amount of capital may be relatively easy, thanks to the current appetite of venture capital and private equity firms for such investments. In fact, they have poured more than $43 billion into such investments in the past 5 years. Sila itself has raised $933 million according to PitchBook, including a $590 million round that closed in January 2021.
“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,” says 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.” With friends like Mercedes-Benz in your corner, getting left behind shouldn’t be a problem for Sila.
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