This has not been a good week for fossil energy stakeholders. On Monday, OPEC warned of a forthcoming investment gap in oil production. As if on cue, the US startup Factorial Energy has just clapped back with news that its oil-killing solid-state EV battery has passed yet another milestone on the way to commercial production.
Oil Producing States Lobby For More Money
To be clear, plenty of money is still flowing into oilfields around the world. “Global upstream investments in oil and gas exploration, extraction and production are on course to reach their highest levels since 2015, growing 11% year-on-year to USD 528 billion in 2023,” the International Energy Agency reported on June 14.
To help keep the investment dollars flowing, OPEC has been warning that any letup in the pace will endanger the global economy.
“The head of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries — a group of the world’s major oil producers — told CNN Monday that a lack of investment in the oil industry posed a danger to global energy security and could send crude prices to $100 a barrel,” CNN reported on Monday, October 2.
According to the EIA, the growth of the petrochemical sector is supporting the demand for oil. Transportation, not so much.
IEA reported that, “the use of oil for transport fuels is set to go into decline after 2026 as the expansion of electric vehicles, the growth of biofuels and improving fuel economy reduce consumption.”
The Oil-Killing Solid-State EV Battery Of The Future
Solid-state EV battery technology has emerged as a high-performance alternative to the familiar lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles (see more CleanTechnica coverage here).
The key word is “performance.” Getting electrons to move through a liquid electrolyte is one thing. Shepherding them through a solid material is something else again. Solids can shrink and expand through charging cycles, potentially leading to damage and a shortened lifecycle. Nevertheless, science loves a challenge, and workarounds have been emerging.
“In batteries, charged particles flow through materials known as electrolytes. Most are liquids, like in the lithium-ion batteries found in electric cars — but solid electrolytes also are being developed. These conductors are typically made from glass or ceramic and could offer advantages such as enhanced safety and strength,” the US Department of Energy explains.
Among other advantages, solid-state batteries offer the opportunity to increase EV driving range and shorten charging times, both of which would help motivate more gasmobile owners to ditch petroleum in favor of electric drive.
The Factorial EV Battery Factor
Factorial Energy first crossed the CleanTechnica radar back in December of 2021, when Stellantis and Daimler hooked up with the EV battery startup to help commercialize the company’s solid-state technology, lured by the prospect of a 50% increase in EV driving range.
“The Massachusetts firm is marketing an energy storage technology it calls FEST™ — for Factorial Electrolyte System Technology,” we observed. “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.”
At the time, Factorial reached a 40 amp-hour benchmark at room temperature for its new solid-state EV battery. Reaching that benchmark helps explain how Factorial was able to nail down a $200 million round of Series D funding just a month or so later, in January of 2022.
Factorial has not been letting the grass grow under its feet since then. Last January, the company joined Stellantis at the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to unveil the latest iteration of its EV battery, which meets the all important 100+ amp-hour mark. Now Factorial has just announced the delivery of samples to its automotive partners for testing.
“A crucial step towards serial production, the 100+Ah lithium-metal battery cells are automotive-sized to meet key performance requirements. This makes this the first global shipment of 100+Ah lithium-metal cells to pass UN 38.3 safety tests,” Factorial notes.
Apparently Factorial anticipates that the new EV battery will pass the performance tests with flying colors. Plans are already under way for a new 50,000+ square foot R&D facility in Massachusetts, with a focus on prepping the battery for mass production.
“Featuring a state-of-the-art dry room and wet lab, the facility is equipped for scientists to fine-tune the processes for manufacturing battery cells at mass production speed and volume. The facility is expected to include over 100 employees,” Factorial enthuses.
The Pesky Persistence of Petrochemicals
To the extent that a better EV battery will help loosen the grip of oil on the transportation sector, that’s a good thing. However, a narrow focus on EV batteries ignores the 800-pound elephant in the room, which is the role of petrochemicals in the automotive supply chain.
EVs or not, the auto industry will continue to help drive the demand for petrochemicals — or not, as the case may be.
On the supply chain side, Goodyear is among the tire industry leaders deploying mass balance accounting to track the transition away from petrochemical-sourced tire materials.
In an interesting twist, the US Air Force has also been testing the durability of tires made with dandelion-sourced rubber.
Another Sticky Wicket For The Sustainable EV Battery Of The Future
The lithium supply chain is another challenge to consider. Last year, the EU organization Transportation & Environment commissioned a research project digging into the environmental impact of a solid-state EV battery. They reported that solid-state technology could decrease the carbon footprint of EV batteries by 24%, with the potential for further savings if sustainable mining practices are followed.
On the down side, T&E notes that a solid-state EV battery could require up to 35% more lithium than conventional batteries. That opens up a whole hornet’s nest of environmental issues surrounding the use of surface mining and open air lagoons for lithium brine evaporation.
Stellantis, for one, seems to be paying attention. In August, the company put up a $100 million stake in the new Hell’s Kitchen geothermal lithium project in California, which provides for a more sustainable source of lithium with a renewable energy benefit as well.
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Photo (cropped): A solid-state EV battery, courtesy of Factorial Energy.
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