Image: A brain-like structure made from high tech ceramic powder supplied by Saint-Gobain is the core of ION’s new solid state EV battery (courtesy of Ion Storage Systems).

New Solid State EV Battery Deploys Ceramic “Brain” From Saint-Gobain

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The US startup Ion Storage Systems is getting ready to launch their new solid state EV battery out of the pilot phase and into a high volume commercial-scale manufacturing line, with an assist from the 350-year-old materials specialist Saint-Gobain. If all goes according to plan, the EV battery of the future will be faster-charging, longer-ranging, less expensive, less reliant on rare earths and toxic chemicals, and more easily recyclable, helping to push gasmobiles out of the market sooner rather than later.

The Solid State EV Battery Of The Future

For those of you new to the topic, the electric vehicle of today runs on lithium-ion batteries, which use a liquid electrolyte. Solid state EV batteries are a new thing. They replace the liquid with a semi-solid gel or a true solid material (see more CleanTechnica coverage here).

There being no such thing as a free lunch, the challenge for solid state electrolytes is getting them to bounce back into shape between cycles of recharging and discharging without cracking or falling apart altogether. However, the payoff for success is enormous in terms of ginning up the pace of decarbonization, and battery innovators have begun to crack the code.

Solid-state lithium batteries (SSBs) offer an energy-dense and safer substitute to the traditional lithium-ion batteries prevalent in electric vehicles (EV) and various portable devices,” notes the US Department of Energy.

“With the potential to amplify the EV driving range per charge, solid-state batteries present a significant breakthrough,” they add.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, the idea of deploying ceramic materials in a solid state EV battery has crossed the CleanTechnica radar here and there over the years, and it has caught the attention of the Energy Department, too.

The Solid State EV Battery Of The Future, With Ceramics

Ion Storage Systems spun out of ceramic research at the University of Maryland, and the application of ceramics to solid state EV battery technology caught the eye of the Energy Department’s ARPA-E funding office for high risk, high reward projects.

In 2017 ARPA-E awarded almost $5 million to the University of Maryland for a five-year research project, aimed at deploying a high tech ceramic material in an EV battery.

Among other advantages, ARPA-E took note of the potential for UMD’s new ceramic solid state EV battery to reduce manufacturing costs.

Last year ARPA-E enthusiastically recapped the project, noting that it came under the office’s “RANGE” program for supporting “transformational electrochemical energy storage technologies” aimed at propelling mass EV adoption with the allure of longer driving range at lower cost.

That’s not as simple as it may seem. “The UMD team built a tri-layer electrolyte structure from Li7La3Zr2O12 (‘LLZO’), a new garnet-ceramic material with a room temperature conductivity nearly equivalent to state-of-the-art  liquid electrolytes used in lithium ion batteries and in LiB [lithium anode metal batteries],” ARPA-E explained in a recap of the program in July of 2022.

The result is a brain-like structure that can shape-shift within boundaries.

“It features a porous structure for both the positive and negative electrodes, with a dense, thin, solid electrolyte sandwiched between them,” they added.

350-Year-Old Materials Specialist Hops On The  Solid State Bandwagon

The next step is scaling up the new solid state EV battery for commercial-level manufacturing, and apparently the clean tech investor community has liked what it sees. ION launched with seed funding of $8 million 2019, and in June of 2022 the company blew bast its $30 million target for  Series A funding with an assist from from Toyota Ventures among others.

“The architecture addresses the technological barriers that have historically plagued solid state batteries, and it enables critical next-generation performance metrics for widespread adoption – including high-energy density, strong cycling performance, wide temperature range, and fast charging,” enthused Lisa Coca, the Climate Fund partner for Toyota Ventures.

The Series A funding was aimed at establishing a manufacturing facility to produce the new solid state EV battery at an initial run of 10 megawatt-hours per year with gigawatt scaling in mind, and that’s where the 350-year-old ceramics specialist comes in.

In September, ION inked a new supply agreement with Saint-Gobain Ceramics, following a pilot-level tryout period between the two companies.

The agreement calls for Saint-Gobain Ceramics to produce ceramic powder, which ION will apply to the new solid state EV battery. Beyond the consumer market for EVs, ION is also aiming to satisfy applications in consumer electronics as well as defense, aerospace, and grid-scale energy storage.

Apparently Saint-Gobain liked what it saw, too. It also spotted an opportunity to grow its ceramics business. Rather than waiting around for ION to launch a Series B funding round, last week Saint-Gobain announced that its NOVA by Saint-Gobain branch has invested in ION.

“The opportunity of partnering with ION Storage will enable our teams to support the continued growth of this promising startup, while bringing insights and expertise on battery applications to our Ceramics businesses,”said Basma Kharrat, the Vice-President for External Venturing at Saint-Gobain.

The fast-growing market for advanced ceramics could explain why Saint-Gobain jumped on the opportunity to level up its interest in ION.

“The advanced ceramics market will soar from USD 75.59 billion in 2023 to USD 101.09 billion by 2032, expanding at a rate of 3.70% from 2023 to 2032,” the firm Market Research Future announced in a new report published last May.

Ceramics Beyond Sip ‘N’ Paint

Saint-Gobain notes that its track record of innovation in the ceramics and glass field dates back to its first years under the reign of Louis XIV 350 years ago, when it invented a “revolutionary procedure that involved casting glass on a metal table,” so it’s no surprise to see the company establishing a foothold in the new solid state EV battery field.

Beyond rechargeable batteries, innovation in the ceramics field could ripple out to water purification and other fields.

One development to keep an eye on is artificial nacre, which is a synthetic version of natural mother-of-pearl and the outer layer of pearls. Nacre is composed of 95% calcium carbonate, a brittle material that obtains toughness depending on the arrangement of molecules.

“Nacre has inspired scientists because of its ability to reach high stiffness and fracture toughness using relatively weak mineral building blocks,” a multinational research team explained last year in a study titled, “Nacre-like composites with superior specific damping performance.”

“Suppressing vibration is another remarkable feature of nacre that has been less explored and is yet to be translated into synthetic composites.”

Some researchers have been investigating the development of metal-ceramic composites based on the architecture of nacre. Others have taken note of the potential for nacre-based ceramics to outperform the materials commonly used in dentistry, so perhaps a solid state EV battery is next on the list.

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Image: A brain-like structure made from high tech ceramic powder supplied by Saint-Gobain is the core of ION’s new solid state EV battery (courtesy of Ion Storage Systems).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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