The cost of EV batteries is continuing to sink, and apparently we ain’t seen nothing yet. The Swiss-German startup Innolith has just announced plans to market its new high-performance I-State battery for electric vehicles and other mobility devices, with the improved safety and lighter weight to gild the cost-cutting lily.
The Road To Better EV Batteries
Electric cars first debuted in the late 19th century, when lead-acid batteries were the only game in town. The high cost of lead-acid batteries was one reason why the early EVs soon lost out to competition when gas-powered cars hit the mass market in the early in the 20th century.
Still, General Motors was willing to give lead-acid EV batteries the old college try. GM introduced the EV-1 electric sedan in 1996 with lead-acid batteries, only to see the attempt to revive electric mobility wither on the vine just a few years later.
Lead-acid technology finally loosened its grip on electric vehicles in the early 2000s, when lithium-ion technology took over. Li-ion EV batteries cost more upfront, but their superior performance and longer lifecycle balances out the expense over the long run.
The grip was loosened, but not entirely lost. Lead-acid batteries continue to cling on by their fingernails. As explained by our friends over at Car and Driver, a 12-volt lead-acid battery is a common feature in many EVs to this day, used for powering computers and other auxiliary devices.
The Next Big Thing After Lithium-Ion
For those of you keeping score at home, Tesla Motors was among the 21st century automakers continuing to lean on 12 volt lead-acid batteries for auxiliary power until 2021, when the company switched to lithium-ion.
All this is by way of saying that it took well over 100 years before lithium-ion replaced lead-acid energy storage technology in electric vehicles — a process that is still not 100% complete — and along comes a whole new battery chemistry from Innolith, under the name “I-State.” The new battery is now available commercially, following testing and pilot production.
Innolith’s energy storage solution is still based on lithium, but with a twist. The “State” in I-State refers to solid-state electrolytes, which are beginning to emerge with superior safety and performance features compared to conventional liquid electrolytes (see more solid state coverage here).
However, I-State is not a solid-state battery. That would really be jumping the gun, as solid-state technology is still under development. Innolith explains that the reference is meant to describe the advantages of solid-state technology in a liquid format. The new battery “combines ease of use and cost advantages during manufacturing of battery cells, like existing Li-ion, with non-flammability, high voltage potential and high conductivity, like is promised by Solid State technologies,” Innolith explains.
“The I-State cells use an entirely new battery technology based on an innovative liquid inorganic electrolyte that can operate at higher voltages than traditional Li-ion battery cells,” they add.
“The higher voltage of the cells enables higher utilization of cathode capacity through usage of nearly 100% of available Lithium vs 80% for Li-ion, over many stable cycles, and at high charge and discharge rates,” they add.
Due to the improved efficiency of the cathode, the I-State battery reduces the amount of lithium and other expensive metals needed in the cell. That provides for multiple benefits.
“The 20% reduction of lithium, cobalt and nickel will help alleviate environmental and sourcing concerns, while typically reducing the weight of an EV battery pack by 7% to 8%,” Innolith states.
From Stationary Energy Storage In Maryland…
Whether or not Innolith’s new battery can knock both lithium-ion and lead-acid out from the EV battery ring remains to be seen, but the technology has already caught the eye of several electrification stakeholders, both on- and off-road. Innolith notes that it is “working closely with three of the 10 largest car companies and has recently signed an MOU with one of the leading EV manufacturers.”
The mobility factor is a big step for Innolith, which rose from the ashes after the ambitious energy storage startup Alevo went bankrupt in 2017. Innolith hit the CleanTechnica radar in 2018, when the company took up where Alevo left off and continued plans for installing a stationary battery in Hargerstown, Maryland.
Innolith installed its 2-megawatt “Gridbank” energy storage system in Hagerstown in 2019. The news organization Herald-Mail Media also reported that Hagerstown was laying plans for two additional installations, one with a 4-megawatt capacity and another with a 6-megawatt capacity.
“‘The existing station on Frederick Street helps steady the Hagerstown electrical grid when it experiences “bumps” from disturbances such as wind,’ said Nancy Hausrath, the city’s utility director,” the Herald-Mail reported. “The other two, planned for Fairgrounds Park and West Memorial Boulevard, will do the same.”
…To EV Batteries For The Road (And Off-Road)
Innolith already had its eye on EV batteries back in 2019, when it anticipated an energy density of 1000 watt-hours per kilogram for a new battery formula. That seemed pretty ambitious at the time. The average energy density of lithium-ion batteries has skyrocketed since 2008 and costs have fallen, but the average energy density is still nowhere near 1000 Wh/kg.
By way of comparison, the battery maker CATL shocked the world last April when it announced up to 500 Wh/kg for its new “condensed” lithium-ion battery for the aviation industry.
As it turns out, the goal of 1000 Wh/kg was based on preliminary concept testing and soon proved to be unworkable for mobility applications. Following a course alteration and a stack of new patents, Innolith was producing samples of its new batteries at a very respectable 300 Wh/kg by 2021, leading to commercial production this year.
The Irish electrification startup Xerotech could be the first to put the I-State through its paces, though not necessarily for passenger vehicles. Xerotech specializes in battery packs for heavy duty applications.
With an eye on the safety element, Xerotech is initially focusing on applications for vertical takeoff and landing aircraft and explosion-proof off-road vehicles that come under the ATEX (short for Appareils destinés à être utilisés en ATmosphères EXplosibles) umbrella.
“Innolith’s I-State battery cells are expected to be appealing to ATEX, eVTOL and industrial sectors, where safety and performance are of the utmost importance. The I-State battery cell’s high energy density, tolerance of extreme hot and cold temperatures and high safety and make it ideal for use in challenging environments,” Xerotech explains.
If you can guess which automaker is most likely to hop on the I-State bandwagon, drop us a note in the comment thread.
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Photo: The new I-State EV battery from Innolith could make its first commercial appearance in the Hibernium heavy duty battery system developed by the startup Xerotech.
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