Charged via rooftop solar panels, the cells form a network that provides a building with backup electricity and that utilities can tap during peak periods.
In short: Very green. But plug-in cars still have environmental effects. Here’s a guide to the main issues and how they might be addressed.
As automakers promise to get rid of internal combustion engines, Heidelberg is trying to get rid of autos.
Nio can tap an extensive supply chain that Beijing has built to achieve its dream of dominating the manufacture of electric cars.
Daimler reported unexpectedly strong profits, underlining a rebound by traditional carmakers despite the pandemic.
Carmakers, government agencies and investors are pouring money into battery research in a global race to profit from emission-free electric cars.
What we need to get to a future of energy-efficient cars.
Building electric cars, and repairing them, will require a huge change for the industry and usher in a new automotive era.
With government support and lavish subsidies, Chinese companies have come to dominate the market for batteries, motors and other essentials Detroit may need for its new fleets.
Sila Nanotechnologies, a Silicon Valley battery materials company, has spent years developing technology designed to pack more energy into a cell at a lower cost — an end game that has helped it lock in partnerships with Amperex Technology Limited as well as automakers BMW and Daimler.
Now, Sila Nano, flush with a fresh injection of capital that has pushed its valuation to $3.3 billion, is ready to bring its technology to the masses.
The company, which was founded nearly a decade ago, said Tuesday it has raised $590 million in a Series F funding round led by Coatue with significant participation by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. Existing investors 8VC, Bessemer Venture Partners, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Sutter Hill Ventures also participated in the round.
Sila Nano plans to use the funds to hire another 100 people this year and begin to buildout a factory in North America capable of producing 100 gigawatt-hours of silicon-based anode material, which is used in batteries for the smartphone and automotive industries. While the company hasn’t revealed the location of the factory, it does have a timeline. Sila Nano said it plans to start production at the factory in 2024. Materials produced at the plant will be in electric vehicles by 2025, the company said.
“It took eight years and 35,000 iterations to create a new battery chemistry, but that was just step one,” Sila Nano CEO and co-founder Gene Berdichevsky said in a statement. “For any new technology to make an impact in the real-world, it has to scale, which will cost billions of dollars. We know from our experience building our production lines in Alameda that investing in our next plant today will keep us on track to be powering cars and hundreds of millions of consumer devices by 2025.”
A lithium-ion battery contains two electrodes. There’s an anode (negative) on one side and a cathode (positive) on the other. Typically, an electrolyte sits in the middle and acts as the courier, moving ions between the electrodes when charging and discharging. Graphite is commonly used as the anode in commercial lithium-ion batteries.
Sila Nano has developed a silicon-based anode that replaces graphite in lithium-ion batteries. The critical detail is that the material was designed to take the place of graphite in without needing to change the battery manufacturing process or equipment.
Sila Nano has been focused on silicon anode because the material can store a lot more lithium ions. Using a material that lets you pack in more lithium ions would theoretically allow you to increase the energy density — or the amount of energy that can be stored in a battery per its volume — of the cell. The upshot would be a cheaper battery that contains more energy in the same space.
It’s a compelling product for automakers attempting to bring more electric vehicles to market. Nearly every global automaker has announced plans or is already producing a new batch of all-electric and plug-in electric vehicles, including Ford, GM, Daimler, BMW, Hyundai and Kia. Tesla continues to ramp up production of its Model 3 and Model Y vehicles as a string of newcomers like Rivian prepare to bring their own EVs to market.
In short: the demand of batteries is climbing; and automakers are looking for the next-generation tech that will give them a competitive edge.
Battery production sat at about 20 GWh per year in 2010. Sila Nano expects it to jump to 2,000 GWh per year by 2030 and 30,000 GWh per year by 2050.
Sila Nano started building the first production lines for its battery materials in 2018. That first line is capable of producing the material to supply the equivalent of 50 megawatts of lithium-ion batteries.
Lacking a strong domestic battery industry, Britain may be left behind by the shift to electric cars.
Building a better battery requires dealing with problems in materials science, chemistry, and manufacturing. We do regular coverage of work going on in the former two categories, but we get a fair number of complaints about our inability to handle the third: figuring out how companies manage to take solutions to the science and convert them into usable products. So, it was exciting to see that a company called StoreDot that was claiming the development of a battery that would allow five-minute charging of electric vehicles was apparently willing to talk to the press.
Unfortunately, the response to our inquiries fell a bit short of our hopes. “Thank you for your interest,” was the reply, “we are still in pure R&D mode and cannot share any information or answer any questions at the moment.” Apparently, the company gave The Guardian an exclusive and wasn’t talking to anyone else.
Undeterred, we’ve since pulled every bit of information we could find from StoreDot’s site to figure out roughly what they were doing, and we went backwards from there to look for research we’ve covered previously that could be related. What follows is an attempt to piece together a picture of the technology and the challenges a company has to tackle to take research concepts and make products out of them.
Earlier this week, the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) released figures on the new generating capacity that’s expected to start operating over the course of 2021. While plans can obviously change, the hope is that, with its new additions, the grid will look radically different than it did just five years ago. This includes the details, where a new nuclear plant may be started up, although it will be dwarfed by the capacity of new batteries. But the big picture is that, even ignoring the batteries, about 80 percent of the planned capacity additions will be emission-free.
The EIA’s accounting shows that just under 40 Gigawatts of capacity will be placed on the grid during 2021, but there are a number of caveats to this. First and foremost is the inclusion of batteries, which account for over 10 percent of that figure (4.3GW). While batteries may look like short-term generating capacity from the perspective of “can this put power on the grid?”, they’re obviously not actually a net source of power. Typically, they’re used to smooth over short-term fluctuations in supply or demand rather than a steady source of power.
Still, given the rarity of grid-scale batteries even a few years ago, 4.3GW of them is striking.
Some companies are having trouble surviving and making money installing panels because of intense competition and the high costs of doing business.
Most of the disposable batteries you’ll come across are technically termed alkaline batteries. They work at high pH and typically use zinc as the charge carrier. Zinc is great because it’s very cheap, can be used to make one of the two electrodes, and, in the right context, allows the use of air at the other electrode. These latter two items simplify the battery, allowing it to be more compact and lighter weight—so far, attempts to do similar things with lithium batteries have come up short.
The problem with all of this is that the batteries are disposable for a good reason: the chemistry of discharging doesn’t really allow things to work in reverse. Carbon dioxide from the air reacts with the electrolyte, forming carbonates that block one electrode. And the zinc doesn’t re-deposit neatly on the electrode it came from, instead creating spiky structures called dendrites that can short out the battery.
Now, an international team has figured out how to make zinc batteries rechargeable. The answer, it seems, involves getting rid of the alkaline electrolyte that gave the batteries their name.
As Tesla completes a factory in Berlin, Mercedes-Benz and Audi are introducing electric cars in bids to defend their dominance of the luxury market.
Mike Strizki powers his house and cars with hydrogen he home-brews. He is using his retirement to evangelize for the planet-saving advantages of hydrogen batteries.
The average cost of a lithium-ion battery pack fell to $137 per kWh in 2020, according to a new industry survey from BloombergNEF. That’s an inflation-adjusted decline of 13 percent since 2019. The latest figures continue the astonishing progress in battery technology over the last decade, with pack prices declining 88 percent since 2010.
Large, affordable batteries will be essential to weaning the global economy off fossil fuels. Lithium-ion batteries are the key enabling technology for electric vehicles. They’re also needed to smooth out the intermittent power generated by windmills and solar panels.
But until recently, batteries were simply too expensive for these applications to make financial sense without mandates and subsidies. Now, that calculus is becoming less and less true. BloombergNEF estimates that battery-pack prices will fall to $100 by 2024. That’s roughly the level necessary for BEVs to be price-competitive with conventional cars without subsidies. Given that electric vehicles are cheap to charge and will likely require less maintenance than a conventional car, they will be an increasingly compelling option over the next decade.
New research details major infrastructure work — including immense construction projects — that would need to start right away to achieve Biden’s goal of zero emissions by 2050.
As electric vehicle adoption grows, the need for battery recycling is growing along with it. Typically, recycling involves breaking the battery down into pure chemical components that can be reconstituted for brand-new battery materials. But what if—at least for some battery chemistries—that’s overkill?
A new study led by Panpan Xu at the University of California, San Diego shows off a very different technique for lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries. This isn’t the most energy-dense type of lithium-ion battery, but it is economical and long-lived. (It’s the chemistry Tesla wants to rely on for shorter-range vehicles and grid storage batteries, for example.) Its low cost cuts both ways—less expensive ingredients mean less profit from recycling operations. But rejuvenating the lithium-iron-phosphate cathode material without breaking it down and starting over seems to be possible.
The idea behind the study relies on knowledge of how LFP battery capacity degrades. On the cathode side, the crystalline structure of the material doesn’t change over time. Instead, lithium ions increasingly fail to find their way back into their slots in the crystal during battery discharge. Iron atoms can move and take their place, plugging up the lithium pathway. If you could convince iron atoms to return to their assigned seats and repopulate with lithium atoms, you could have cathode material that is literally “as good as new.”
General Motors says it will increase its investment and model offerings over the next five years “to expedite the transition to E.V.s.”
The attorneys general for 33 states and the District of Columbia have reached a $113 million settlement with Apple over allegations that the iPhone maker throttled performance in several generations of the device to conceal a design defect in the battery.
The states alleged that Apple throttled performance in aging iPhones without telling consumers it was doing it or why. That concealment violated states’ consumer protection laws, the attorneys general argued.
“Apple withheld information about their batteries that slowed down iPhone performance, all while passing it off as an update,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said when announcing the settlement. “Today’s settlement ensures consumers will have access to the information they need to make a well-informed decision when purchasing and using Apple products.”
Wind and solar are better bets for investors and the planet.
The fuel could play an important role in fighting climate change, but it has been slow to gain traction because of high costs.
Elon Musk made a lot of promises during Tesla’s Battery Day last September. Soon, he said, the company would have a car that runs on batteries with pure silicon anodes to boost their performance and reduced cobalt in the cathodes to lower their price. Its battery pack will be integrated into the chassis so that it provides mechanical support in addition to energy, a design that Musk claimed will reduce the car’s weight by 10 percent and improve its mileage by even more. He hailed Tesla’s structural battery as a “revolution” in engineering—but for some battery researchers, Musk’s future looked a lot like the past.
“He’s essentially doing something that we did 10 years ago,” says Emile Greenhalgh, a materials scientist at Imperial College London and the engineering chair in emerging technologies at the Royal Academy. He’s one of the world’s leading experts on structural batteries, an approach to energy storage that erases the boundary between the battery and the object it powers. “What we’re doing is going beyond what Elon Musk has been talking about,” Greenhalgh says. “There are no embedded batteries. The material itself is the energy storage device.”
Renewable energy prices have plunged to the point where, for much of the planet, wind and solar power is now cheaper than fossil fuel-generated electricity. But the variability of these power sources can make managing them on an electric grid challenging—a challenge that can exact costs beyond their apparent price. The exact cost, however, has been heavily debated, with estimates ranging from “minimal” up to “build an entire natural gas plant to match every megawatt of wind power.”
Philip Heptonstall and Robert Gross of Imperial College London decided to try to figure out what the costs actually were. After wading through hundreds of studies, the answer they came up with is somewhere between “It’s complicated” and “It depends.” But the key conclusion is that, even at the high end of the estimates, the added costs of renewables still leave them fairly competitive with carbon-emitting sources.
Heptonstall and Gross start by breaking the potential for added costs down into three categories. The first is covering for the somewhat erratic nature of renewable power, which may incur expenses if their output doesn’t match their forecasted output. The second is the ability of renewables to meet the predictable daily peaks in demand—late afternoon in hotter climates, overnight in colder ones. Finally, there’s the costs of integrating renewables into an existing grid, as the best sites for generation may not match up with the existing transmission capacity.
Labs closed in the pandemic, but innovation doesn’t stop. So while some workers have the home office, engineers have the garage.
Right now, electric vehicles are limited by the range that their batteries allow. That’s because recharging the vehicles, even under ideal situations, can’t be done as quickly as refueling an internal combustion vehicle. So far, most of the effort on extending the range has been focused on increasing a battery’s capacity. But it could be just as effective to create a battery that can charge much more quickly, making a recharge as fast and simple as filling your tank.
There are no shortage of ideas about how this might be arranged, but a paper published earlier this week in Science suggests an unusual way that it might be accomplished: using a material called black phosphorus, which forms atom-thick sheets with lithium-sized channels in it. On its own, black phosphorus isn’t a great material for batteries, but a Chinese-US team has figured out how to manipulate it so it works much better. Even if black phosphorus doesn’t end up working out as a battery material, the paper provides some insight into the logic and process of developing batteries.
Paint it black
So, what is black phosphorus? The easiest way to understand it is by comparisons to graphite, a material that’s already in use as an electrode for lithium-ion batteries. Graphite is a form of carbon that’s just a large collection of graphene sheets layered on top of each other. Graphene, in turn, is a sheet formed by an enormous molecule formed by carbon atoms bonded to each other, with the carbons arranged in a hexagonal pattern. In the same way, black phosphorus is composed of many layered sheets of an atom-thick material called phosphorene.
Embracing solar panels to save money, homeowners have made the country a powerhouse in renewable energy.
In a conversation with Kara Swisher, the billionaire entrepreneur talks space-faring civilization, battery-powered everything and computer chips in your skull.
Tesla said it was working on advances that would lower the cost of batteries and increase their capacity to store energy.
Battery prices are dropping faster than expected. Analysts are moving up projections of when an electric vehicle won’t need government incentives to be cheaper than a gasoline model.
Tesla cofounder JB Straubel has been funded by Amazon for Redwood Materials, a start-up aiming to extract lithium, cobalt and nickel from old smartphones and other electronics for reuse in new electric batteries.
Redwood is one of five companies Amazon is investing in as part of its $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund, announced this year.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, said in a statement that this first batch of companies were “channelling their entrepreneurial energy into helping Amazon and other companies reach net zero by 2040 and keep the planet safer for future generations.”
Better batteries are a critical enabling technology for everything from your gadgets all the way up to the stability of an increasingly renewable grid. But most of the obvious ways of squeezing more capacity into a battery have been tried, and they all run straight into problems. While there may be ways to solve those problems, they’re going to need a lot of work to overcome those hurdles.
Earlier this week, a paper covers a new electrode material that seems to avoid the problems that have plagued other approaches to expanding battery capacity. And it’s a remarkably simple material: a variation on the same structure that’s formed by crystals of table salt. While it’s far from being ready to throw in a battery, the early data definitely indicate it’s worth looking into further.
Lithium-ion batteries, as their name implies, involve shuffling lithium between the cathode and the anode of the battery. The consequence of this is that both of the electrodes will end up needing to store lithium atoms. So most ideas for next-generation batteries involve finding electrode materials that do so more effectively.
Worrying about your battery’s health might not be worth the hassle.
When demand exceeded supply in a recent heat wave, electricity stored at businesses and even homes was called into service. With proper management, batteries could have made up for an offline gas plant.
Yes, you can now pay less than $399 for a smartphone — and it won’t stink.
“Children around the world are being poisoned by lead on a massive and previously unrecognized scale,” according to the study, a collaboration of UNICEF and Pure Earth, an advocacy group.
All of our tech products will one day become obsolete, but here are some strategies to buying gadgets that you can enjoy for many years.
As coal declines and wind and solar energy rise, some are pushing to limit the use of natural gas, but utilities say they are not ready to do so.
In a pandemic-induced recession, it’s more important than ever to take care of our smartphones and other gadgets.
In 2010, a lithium-ion battery pack with 1 kWh of capacity—enough to power an electric car for three or four miles—cost more than $1,000. By 2019, the figure had fallen to $156, according to data compiled by BloombergNEF. That’s a massive drop, and experts expect continued—though perhaps not as rapid—progress in the coming decade. Several forecasters project the average cost of a kilowatt-hour of lithium-ion battery capacity to fall below $100 by the mid-2020s.
That’s the result of a virtuous circle where better, cheaper batteries expand the market, which in turn drives investments that produce further improvements in cost and performance. The trend is hugely significant because cheap batteries will be essential to shifting the world economy away from carbon-intensive energy sources like coal and gasoline.
Batteries and electric motors have emerged as the most promising technology for replacing cars powered by internal combustion engines. The high cost of batteries has historically made electric cars much more expensive than conventional cars. But once battery packs get cheap enough—again, experts estimate around $100 per kWh for non-luxury vehicles—electric cars should actually become cheaper than equivalent gas-powered cars. The cost advantage will be even bigger once you factor in the low cost of charging an electric car, so we can expect falling battery costs to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.
Electric Hummers and Cybertrucks, as well as the next generation of S.U.V.s, will signal the arrival of the E.V. era in America if they start to sell in big numbers.
For $399, this smartphone hits the high notes: speedy, a great camera and a nice screen. Took long enough, didn’t it?
A growing array of specialty shops are turning classics into silent brutes with tire-burning torque and vintage style.
This is one of the potential layouts for GM’s new Ultium battery platform and BEV3 vehicle architecture. You can tell from the tires it’s a truck frame, and if you click on the image to enlarge it, you might be able to see that the cells are aligned vertically, which GM says allows for better energy density at the cost of a taller pack. [credit: Steve Fecht for General Motors ]
On Wednesday afternoon in Warren, Michigan, General Motors announced it has developed a new, third-generation battery electric vehicle platform (called BEV3) and a new flexible battery architecture—called Ultium—that will underpin a wide range of new BEVs across the Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC brands. It’s the latest in a series of recent announcements by GM regarding its electrified future; in December 2019, the carmaker revealed a $2.3 billion joint venture with LG Chem to build a battery factory in Lordstown, Ohio, then followed that in January with plans to spend $2.2 billion refitting its Detroit-Hamtramck factory to exclusively build BEVs.
Breaking the $100/kWh barrier
GM has gone for a pouch cell design for the Ultium batteries, which can be configured in different ways depending on the vehicle and its needs. For a big pickup or SUV, that means pouches arranged vertically in the modules (i.e., with their second-longest edge vertically), which GM says is best for energy density, but at the tradeoff of a taller pack. For cars that need something a little lower profile, the pouches can be stacked on top of each other in a module. GM says that a car would use between six and 12 modules in a pack, with up to 24 in a 200kWh, 800V double-layer battery pack for something like the 1,000hp electric GMC Hummer that was trailed at this year’s Super Bowl. (The smallest six-module packs would be 50kWh units.)
The battery modules also include their own battery-management electronics. That has cut the amount of wiring in a pack by 88 percent over the current Chevrolet Bolt EV battery pack. GM says that if you have to replace an individual module within a battery pack, the electronics can talk to each other and recalibrate the pack easily. That’s because each module knows what kind of chemistry its cells use.