No Graphite? No Problem, Silicon EV Batteries Really Are Coming

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Automakers in the US were among those getting the jitters last year when China announced new export curbs on graphite, the main ingredient in EV batteries. With China being the main suppler of graphite, that is a problem. Not for much longer, though. Automotive stakeholders have been prepping for new EV batteries that replace graphite with silicon, and the synthetic graphite industry is also springing into action.

Silicon EV Batteries Coming Soon, From StoreDot

One good example of the fast-paced developments in the silicon EV battery field is the Israeli startup StoreDot. The company nailed a $20 million investment from BP in 2018. Daimler, VinFast, Volvo Cars, Polestar, Ola Electric, Samsung, and TDK are among others attracted by StoreDot’s plan for ultra-fast charging silicon EV batteries.

The shift to silicon is more than a supply chain fix. As illustrated by StoreDot’s technology, silicon EV batteries can deliver improved performance and faster charging than conventional graphite batteries.

StoreDot’s near-term goal is a 100-mile charge in five minutes. In about two years the company expects that its EV batteries will drop down to a 4-minute charge, towards an ultimate goal of two minutes by 2032.

Earlier this year, StoreDot also announced a new battery cell architecture aimed at enabling automakers to assemble battery cells into packs more efficiently, an improvement aimed at speeding up production and cutting costs.

In the latest development, earlier this week StoreDot announced a strategic partnership with the Chinese battery maker EVE Energy, aimed at bringing its silicon XFC batteries to commercial production. The new arrangement builds on an existing collaboration between the two companies.

“The deal will facilitate StoreDot’s cells being produced from EVE’s highly advanced production lines in the future, to be delivered directly to the company’s customer portfolio of global electric vehicle manufacturers,” StoreDot explains.

“The company will also license its technology to EVE and continue to pursue licensing agreements with other third parties, in conjunction with creating its own global captive capacity,” they add.

EVE bills itself as “one of world’s 10 leading EV battery suppliers, expanding globally, with close ties to many of the world’s leading automotive manufacturers.” No kidding. When CleanTechnica last spotted EVE, the company was laying plans to serve as a technical advisor and minority stakeholder in a joint EV battery venture in the US state of Mississippi. The other participants are three A-list truck makers, Cummins’s Accelera branch, Daimler Trucks & Buses, and PACCAR, which owns the Kenworth and Peterbilt brands.

As for the silicon, that’s not just any old silicon. Without giving too much away, StoreDot explains that its silicon is “synthesized together with proprietary small-molecule organic compounds.”

The result is “a highly potent active material that withstands silicon changes, such as the volume expansion during battery charging, issues of energy fade, preeminent rate capability limitations, and enhanced safety,” StoreDot adds (check out our full StoreDot coverage here).

Another Step Towards The Silicon EV Batteries Of The Future…

Another interesting development cropped up earlier this week, when word dropped that the leading global firm Ferroglobe has hooked up with the US battery innovator Coreshell to develop silicon metal EV batteries and produce them here in the US, too.

“Together, Ferroglobe and Coreshell expect to produce the first battery-ready metallurgical silicon for the development of low-cost, high-range EV batteries in compliance with the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act,” the partners announced.

The mashup joins Coreshell’s proprietary EV battery technologies with Ferroglobe’s proprietary low cost silicon purification process. “These innovations enable, for the first time, the development of lithium-ion batteries with metallurgical silicon dominant anodes that meet product requirements for lifetime across a range of applications,” they explain.

“Silicon stores 10 times the energy of graphite and it is available in sufficient quantity and quality. It is the only viable pathway to low-cost, long-range electric vehicle batteries that can be scaled rapidly using a 100% domestic supply chain,” said Coreshell CEO Jonathan Tan in a press statement.

“We are simplifying silicon and stripping out the costs so we can deliver the lowest cost, long range EV batteries in existence,” he added.

…And Farther Into The Future

Rounding out the recent news is a new gel-based approach to silicon EV batteries, proposed by a research team from the Department of Chemistry at POSTECH, the Pohang University of Science and Technology in Korea.

“They have cracked the code, developing a pocket-friendly and rock-solid next-generation high-energy-density Li-ion battery system using micro silicon particles and gel polymer electrolytes,” explains the POSTECH communications department enthusiastically.

The code to which they refer is a balance between the cost of silicon EV batteries and the size of the silicon particles. Nanoscale particles prevent silicon batteries from degrading during charging cycles, but they are expensive. Stepping up to micro-sized particles improves energy density while reducing costs, but then the battery is vulnerable to degradation.

To deploy larger particles without sacrificing performance, the POSTECH team came up with a gel-type electrolyte that binds with micro-silicon particles.

“Unlike conventional liquid electrolytes, gel electrolytes exist in a solid or gel state, characterized by an elastic polymer structure that has better stability than their liquid counterparts do,” POSTECH explains.

“The outcome was remarkable: The battery exhibited stable performance even with micro silicon particles (5μm), which were a hundred times larger than those used in traditional nano-silicon anodes,” POSTECH reported.

POSTECH also takes note of the all-important manufacturing angle, noting that the new micro-silicon approach lends itself to a “straightforward manufacturing process that is ready for immediate application.”

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Graphite Or Not, More EV Batteries Are Coming

As for that graphite issue, China did announce a new, more restrictive graphite export approval process last fall. So far the measure appears to be a paperwork exercise. However, industry observers are concerned that the bark could quickly pivot into bite mode, with the potential for retaliatory impacts on the US and its allies.

China refines nearly 90% of the world’s graphite, which is an essential material for nearly all EV battery anodes. Last year, it produced 79% of the world’s graphite supply, while North America contributed just 1.2%,” notes the leading global supply chain management firm GEP.

If China were to turn off the graphite tap everywhere all at once, that would cause a world of pain for battery stakeholders. Nevertheless, alternative sources could forestall serious damage, enabling graphite EV battery production to continue apace until silicon manufacturing ramps up.

Though GEP cautions that alternate sources of graphite are limited geographically, they also point out that Mexico, Canada, and India are among the countries that could help fill supply chain gaps.

GEP also notes that EV batteries can be recycled, which could also build more options into the graphite supply chain. “Procurement teams should explore the possibilities of recycling and reusing graphite from end-of-life batteries, as well as from scrap and waste materials from battery production,” GEP advises.

“This would reduce the dependence on primary graphite and lower the environmental impact of battery manufacturing and disposal,” they add.

Synthetic graphite is yet another option. GEP takes note of the Norwegian startup Vianode, which is working towards full scale synthetic graphite production for EV batteries, targeting the European and US markets by 2030.

Here in the US, the Illinois startup Anovion is already laying plans for a new $800 million factory to produce synthetic graphite anodes for EV batteries in Georgia, with an assist of $117 million from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. No word yet on when they expect to start operation, so stay tuned for more on that.

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Image: StoreDot is bringing its extreme fast-charging silicon EV batteries to market with an assist from the leading global manufacturer EVE Energy.

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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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