Royal Dutch Shell, though still reliant on profits from fossil fuels, is investing more in renewable energy. Critics say the changes have to come quicker.
General Motors’ push to increase E.V. spending follows an announcement by Ford that it would start making an electric version of its F-150 pickup truck this year.
Ownership of recreational vehicles is on the rise and with improved technology, an attractive lure for those who can hit the road to travel, or work, wherever they choose.
A swath of recommendations calls for more investments, new supply chains and less reliance on other countries for crucial goods.
Ford Motor Company and Seoul, South Korea-based SK Innovation signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a joint venture to domestically manufacture batteries for electric vehicles, the two companies said Thursday. The new venture, dubbed BlueOvalSK, will produce around 60 GWh annually starting mid-decade. The MOU is the latest sign that Ford intends to vertically develop its battery capabilities.
“Initially with just a Mustang Mach-E, we felt like it was most efficient for us to purchase the batteries from the supply base, but as we start to move up that adoption curve, and move from just the early adopters to the early majority [. . .] we now have sufficient volume to justify this level of investment and this is why we’re pursuing this partnership,” Ford’s chief product platform and operations officer Hau Thai-Tang said Thursday.
Ownership structures will be worked out in the future, Lisa Drake, Ford’s chief operating officer, told reporters Thursday. The 60 GWh production capacity would likely span two manufacturing sites but the companies are still determining those plans, including locations of the plants across North America, Drake added. 60 GWh roughly translates to enough battery capacity to build 600,000 vehicles, Thai-Tang said.
Ford has taken strides in recent months to build a vertically-integrated capability to manufacture battery cells at scale. In April the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker said it would open a battery technology development center in Michigan. It also led, with BMW, a $130 million investment into solid-state battery developer Solid Power’s Series B round.
But Ford has not always been so bullish on making batteries in-house. “Our product plans changed dramatically,” Thai-Tang said.
The news comes less than 24 hours after Ford debuted its F-150 Lighting, the electric version of its iconic nameplate vehicle and the best-selling truck in America. The Lighting is one of three EVs that Ford has debuted in the past year and will be a cornerstone of the company’s plans to invest $22 billion in EVs through 2025.
SK Innovation already has two separate EV battery plants under construction in Georgia under a collective investment of $2.6 billion. One of the batteries is already producing batteries and the other is set to become operational in 2023. The company is also building a separate factory in Tennessee with Volkswagen AG as its customer. Ford and SK Innovation’s relationship spans many years, with the automaker selecting SK as its battery supplier for the Lightning in 2018.
The company recently completed a $1.8 billion settlement in April over trade secret disputes with rival LG Energy Solutions. The resolution came after a two-year dispute that nearly led to SK Innovation shutting down its Georgia plans.
The two Korean conglomerates have invested billions in American battery manufacturing alongside their automaker partners. LG Energy is building manufacturing facilities in Ohio and Tennessee under its joint venture with General Motors, Ultium Cells LLC.
“The scale just makes sense now,” Drake said. “It’s the perfect time to start to do this.”
All batteries degrade over time. For automakers, fleet managers and other companies, the crux — and key to profitability — is knowing when they will.
But it’s surprisingly difficult to understand the health and status of a battery without extensive and expensive testing, which isn’t always possible once a battery is in a vehicle. German battery analytics software company Twaice has been taking aim at this problem since its founding in 2018, and it announced Wednesday that it has raised $26 million in Series B funding led by Chicago-based Energize Ventures. The company, which primarily works in the mobility and energy storage industries, now has a total financing of $45 million.
“We started Twaice with the focus on building a battery analytics platform which really covers the whole lifecycle of battery systems,” company co-founder Stephan Rohr told TechCrunch, including the development and operational phases. The company has launched tools that are suited for the design and development phase and when the battery is actually in a vehicle or energy storage system. Audi, Daimler and Hero Motors are some of its customers.
The company intends to use this fresh round of funding to expand its European commercial footprint and possibly into the United States. It also wants to build even more use cases on top of its analytics platform — for example, working with fleet providers, rather than only the manufacturers.
One of the company’s innovations is a concept of a “digital twin,” or a simulation model of the battery system that runs in Twaice’s cloud platform. The company continually updates the parameters of the “twin” so that it reflects the behavior of the actual battery, down to its thermal characteristics, electrical behavior and degradation. That means companies that operate a fleet of EV buses can monitor the state of the battery packs of each of their vehicles.
“It enables not just a focus on the current health of the battery system, but also it enables us to simulate and forecast the future,” Rohr said.
Twaice also offers solutions before the battery even enters the vehicle or energy storage system. “Battery design engineers use our simulations to reduce the testing effort [. . .] assess charging strategies, assess depth of discharge, assess different cell chemistries,” Rohr explained.
One major use case for Twaice’s software is for warranty tracking and safety risks. Using battery analytics OEMs can understand where exactly the battery failed, whether in the cell or the module, for example, and also gain valuable data on future warranty claims based on previous data. Warranties are huge risks for OEMs, Lennart Hinrichs, Twaice’s commercial director, explained to TechCrunch, in part because batteries are so complex and difficult to understand once they’re in a vehicle.
But having a grasp on the battery’s life could come in handy for consumers as well. Twaice has partnered with TÜV Rheinland, a testing and certification institute in Germany that’s working on EV resale in the private market. It could eventually lead the way to a standard assessment process for batteries on the resale market.
Once the battery is no longer suited for its first-life application, companies can use Twaice’s software to assess the remaining life and health of the battery system and determine whether it’s fit for a second-life purpose or if it should go straight to recycling.
Twaice’s previous funding round in March 2020 was led by early-stage venture capital firm Creandum, with additional participation from existing investors UVC Partners, Cherry Ventures and Speedinvest.
Cut off from the power grid and with fuel costs soaring, Syrians in a poor, embattled enclave have turned en masse to solar panels to charge their phones and light their homes and tents.
A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green.
When Elon Musk stood on stage at Tesla’s Battery Day in September and promised to cut lithium-ion battery prices in half, he claimed some of the savings would come from reinventing the dirty and complex process of making their nickel metal cathodes.
“It’s insanely complicated, like digging a ditch, filling it in and digging the ditch again,” he said at the event. So we looked at the entire value chain and said how can we make this as simple as possible?”
The simplest route to appears to involve a small Canadian battery startup — or at least its patent applications.
Two weeks before Battery Day, Tesla purchased a number of patent applications from Springpower International, a small company based just outside Toronto, for a grand total of $3, according to public records.
One of those applications details an innovative process similar to one that Drew Baglino, Tesla’s senior vice-president of engineering, described on stage at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, on Battery Day. Buying the patent application means that when the patent itself was finally granted in January, it was issued to Tesla, with no mention of Springpower.
Manufacturing cathodes for electric vehicle batteries traditionally generates large quantities of contaminated water – up to 4,000 gallons containing ammonia, metal particles and toxic chemicals for every ton of cathode material produced. Springpower’s process cleverly recirculates the chemical solution, removing the need for expensive water treatment.
Baglino’s presentation also depicted a method that also reuses water and produces no effluent. In addition to cutting operational costs by more than 75%, he said: “We can also use that same process to directly consume the metal powder coming out of recycled electric vehicle and grid storage batteries.”
It now seems likely that Tesla may have bought more than just Springpower’s intellectual property. A week before Battery Day, Springpower International’s website was replaced by a single holding page. And in the months since then, several Springpower researchers have altered their LinkedIn profiles to indicate that they are now working at Tesla.
Springpower International CEO Michael Wang, whose own LinkedIn pagenow features dozens of updates from Tesla staffers (including Baglino), did not respond to a request for comment, and calls to the company’s switchboard went unanswered.
A senior Springpower International executive reached by phone would neither confirm nor deny Tesla’s purchase, and referred TechCrunch to Tesla’s public affairs team. (Tesla no longer has a press office, and emails to the company did not receive a reply).
Springpower International was founded in March 2010, in part by Chinese battery firm Highpower International, as a research arm for its Springpower subsidiary in Shenzen. But Highpower walked away from Springpower International within six months, writing off a $100,000 investment after deciding its technologies were too far from commercialization.
James Sbrolla, an “entrepreneur in residence” at a Canadian government-funded program, stepped in to mentor the young company. He helped it secure some small grants, and ultimately a $3.4 million (Canadian) sustainable technology award in 2018. However, he told TechCrunch that he has not talked to anyone at Springpower International since late 2020.
Sbrolla was not surprised to hear that the company might have been purchased.
“It’s a group of smart people, no question about it,” Sbrolla said. “Technology like Springpower’s gives tremendous upside with a reduced environmental footprint, and being attached to a larger organization makes scaling much quicker and easier.”
If, as seems likely, Springpower International has been acquired by Tesla, it would join only a dozen or so others, including another Canadian battery company, Hibar, bought in similar stealth in 2019.
Elon Musk has long looked north of the border for lithium-ion battery expertise. In 2015, Tesla signed a five-year exclusive partnership with Jeff Dahn, a leading battery researcher and professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. Dahn is named on a number of recent Tesla battery patents, and in January Tesla renewed Dahn’s contract for another five years.
Musk is on a years-long push to bring battery production in-house and scale back Tesla’s reliance on its current suppliers, Panasonic, LG Chem, and CATL. “Now that we have this process, we’re going to start building our own cathode facility in North America,” said Baglino on Battery Day.
Musk added that the combined benefits of Tesla’s new battery technologies could enable a $25,000 vehicle, but cautioned not to expect too much, too soon: “It will take us probably a year to 18 months to start realizing these advantages, and three years or thereabouts to fully realize them.”
Perhaps by that time, Springpower International’s role will be a little clearer.
Ford Motor Company will open a $185 million R&D battery lab to develop and manufacture battery cells and batteries, a first step toward the automaker possibly making battery cells in-house. The facility comes as yet another signal to consumers and other automakers that the auto giant is no longer hedging its bets on the transition to battery electric vehicles.
Company executives declined to provide a timeline on when Ford might scale its battery manufacturing, but it is clear that the company intends this facility to lay the groundwork for such a future.
The Ford Ion Park will be based in southeast Michigan and will be home to more than 150 employees across battery technology development, research and manufacturing. The facility will likely be around 200,000 square feet and will open at the end of 2022. The facility will be supported by Ford’s batteries benchmarking test laboratories in nearby Allen Park, Michigan, which is already testing battery cell construction and chemistries. Also nearby are Ford’s product development center in Dearborn and Ford’s battery cell assembly and e-motor plant in Rossville.
The new facility will be led by Anand Sankaran, who is currently Ford’s director of electrified systems engineering. He described it as a “learning lab” to create both “lab-scale and pilot-scale assembly of cells,” including next-gen lithium-ion and solid-state batteries.
Ford is thinking about the transition to BEVs in phases, Hau Thai Tang, Ford’s chief product platform and operations officer, explained. In this first phase, when BEVs are being largely purchased by early adopters, Ford’s working with external supplier partners. The company is now preparing for phase two, when Ford will bring more products to market and BEVs will take more of the market share. “So in preparation for that next transition into the second phase, we want to give Ford the flexibility and the optionality to eventually vertically integrate,” Tang said.
“Our plan to lead the electric revolution will certainly be dependent on the progress that we make on battery energy density, as well as cost,” Tang told reporters Tuesday.
“The formation of the Ford Ion Park team is a key enabler for Ford to vertically integrate and manufacture batteries in the future,” Tang said. “This will help us better control our supply and deliver high-volume battery cells with greater range, lower cost and higher quality.”
This would be a huge boost for domestic manufacturing of battery cells, which is dominated by companies based in Asia, such as Panasonic (Tesla’s main supplier), South Korea-based LG Chem and SK Innovation, Ford’s current battery cell supplier. Executives said the global pandemic and the semiconductor shortage have highlighted the importance of having a localized and domestically controlled supply chain.
“We know in terms of batteries, it’s a very capital-intensive business to be in,” Tang said. “The best tier one suppliers in the world spend a large amount of their revenue on R&D spending, and then the capital expenditure required to build and stand up battery plants is quite high. So as we think about this, the scale and volume that we would need to have dedicated sites for Ford is a big consideration, and we’ve talked about how bullish we see this transition happening. We’re at a point where now, there’s sufficient scale for us to entertain having greater levels of vertical integration at some point.”
Standard Energy, a vanadium ion battery developer, announced today it has raised a $8.9 million Series C from SoftBank Ventures Asia. The South Korea-based company says its batteries’ advantages over lithium ion include less risk of ignition and the ease of sourcing vanadium. The latter is an important selling point, as electric vehicle makers face a potential shortage of lithium ion batteries.
Instead of serving as a replacement for lithium ion batteries, however, Standard Energy chief executive officer Bu Gi Kim said they complement each other. Vanadium ion batteries have high energy, performance and safety, but they are not as compact as lithium ion batteries.
Lithium ion batteries will continue to be used in hardware that needs to be mobile, such as electric vehicles or consumer devices like smartphones, but vanadium ion batteries are suited to “stationary” customers, like wind and solar power plants or ultra-fast charging stations for electric vehicles (Kim said Standard Energy is scheduled to ship its batteries to an ultra-fast charging station in Seoul soon).
Founded in 2013 by researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Standard Energy expects one of its main customers to be the energy storage systems (ESS) sector, which the company says is expected to grow from $8 billion to $35 billion in the next five years.
“A large number of renewable energy projects have slowed or even stopped in many places due to the unstable battery performance of lithium ion. VIB cannot be as compact as lithium ion. However, ESS projects or solutions including renewable energy plants provide enough space for our products to be integrated into their systems,” said Kim.
Standard Energy has already performed a total of over one million battery testing hours, including in a lab, at a certified battery performance test site and in actual operations. Kim said the company is confident its performance data will convince customers to adopt vanadium ion batteries.
In a press statement, SoftBank Ventures Asia senior partner Daniel Kang said, “The existing ESS market was in a state of imbalance due to the rapidly growing demand, and safety and efficiency issues of products. Standard Energy is expected to create new standards for the global ESS market through its innovative material and design technology with massive manufacturing capabilities.”
The settlement between LG Energy Solution and SK Innovation ensures that a battery plant in Georgia will go forward without hampering electric vehicle production.
Gas-power yard equipment spews noise and pollutants. Newer models, using batteries or electricity, are quieter and greener, and might even manage themselves.
An Irish mechanic in London has developed a kit to transform classic Italian scooters into clean-riding electric machines.
Lucid Motors has designed the battery packs in its luxury electric vehicle for two lives. The company, which is already experimenting with energy storage systems for commercial and residential customers, is also eyeing ways to repurpose batteries from its electric vehicles.
While Lucid is still years from having to contend with a large number of used batteries — its first EV, the luxury Lucid Air sedan, isn’t coming to market until the second half of 2021 — the company is already planning how to give them a second life them in a yet-to-be-launched energy storage business.
The battery-cell modules that power Lucid’s vehicles are identical to the ones that will be used for energy storage, making them well-suited for “second-life” purposes, according to the company. The company has already constructed a prototype of a 300-kilowatt hour stationary battery storage system at its engineering lab, Lucid’s Chief Engineer and Senior VP of Product Eric Bach told TechCrunch. The batteries in that system are new, but there is “no technical limitation” that would prevent Lucid from swapping them out with used batteries, Bach said. While Lucid CEO and CTO Peter Rawlinson has previously discussed plans to eventually build energy storage systems like Tesla that uses new batteries, this is the first time the company has talked about second-life applications for the product.
Batteries typically retain a charging capacity of around 70% once they’re removed from EVs, which means they potentially have another decade of useful life. Automakers like General Motors, Ford Motor, and Audi AG have already initiated second-life pilot projects aimed at extracting that remaining value.
Bach explained the company will likely retrieve batteries used in Lucid EVs after they reach the end of their useful life through its dedicated service centers or when customers trade in their vehicles. Once batteries are returned to Lucid, the company would need to harvest the modules from the packs and run a quality check on them. Lucid’s vehicles have built-in sensors that provide data on each of its cars from the battery packs down to the module level, Bach said, which will come in handy when determining the health of each module. After physical testing, the modules could be ready to be placed in an outgoing product.
Storage systems do contain some additional components. In a home system, that may include a DC-to-AC inverter, a cooling system and safety switches. The actual battery will remain consistent across Lucid’s products.
Lucid hasn’t determined how it will distribute the second-life batteries between home and industrial applications.
“Personally, I feel in an industrial application, using these [second-life] modules would be more appropriate and easier because there, the key metric is really just dollars per kilowatt hour,” Bach said.
In instances where a Lucid vehicle ends up at a car dismantler, Bach suggested there may be an opportunity to incentivize the dismantler to feed the battery packs back to the company. Even if that doesn’t happen, as the price of EV battery raw materials continues to rise, dismantlers will likely make their own business of selling battery packs to companies or recyclers.
At this point – with no product yet on the market and with an expectation that it will be low- to mid-volume – Lucid has not started branching out into recycling materials itself, he said. For the moment, Lucid is leaving recycling operations to its battery cell suppliers, like South Korea-based LG Chem.
“But in the long run, I mean, we’re just at the start of our journey [. . .] and I can envision that in multiple years we will look into cell manufacturing ourselves as well as the full value chain for everything that’s needed to make the applicable energy storage devices,” Bach said. “So in the future, absolutely it makes a lot of sense as the volume goes up, you need to try to contain more of the supply chain and that goes back into a sustainable method of harvesting the raw materials.”
Bach said the company is laser-focused on the Lucid Air and the public may be a few years out from seeing a Lucid home battery system. Until then, the Lucid Air will come equipped with bidirectional charging capabilities, meaning the customer will be able to feed the power from her car into her house.
“Essentially, that is the first home battery system that we will have already,” Bach said.
It’s unclear what resources — in terms of people and capital — Lucid is putting towards an energy storage business. Such details are likely to remain scant until after the company officially becomes a publicly traded company. In March, Lucid Motors announced it had reached an agreement to become a publicly traded company through a merger with special-purpose acquisition company Churchill Capital IV Corp., in what was considered the largest deal yet between a blank-check company and an electric vehicle startup.
The combined company, in which Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund will continue to be the largest shareholder, will have a transaction equity value of $11.75 billion. Private investment in the public equity deal is priced at $15 a share, putting the implied pro-forma equity value at $24 billion.
The funding will be used to bring the Lucid Air and an SUV to market as well as to expand its factory in Arizona, Lucid CEO and CTO Peter Rawlinson previously told TechCrunch. The company plans to expand the factory over another three phases in the coming years to have the capacity to produce 365,000 units per year at scale. The initial phase of the $700 million factory was completed late last year and will have the capacity to produce 30,000 vehicles a year.
Volkswagen AG is gearing up to seize the top spot as the world’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer with plans announced Monday to have six 40 Gigawatt hour (GWh) battery cell production plants in operation in Europe by 2030.
To get there, the automaker put in a 10-year, $14 billion order with Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt – and that’s only one of the six planned factories. A second plant in Germany will commence production in 2025.
The company also announced serious investments in charging infrastructure across China, Europe and the United States. It aims to grow its fast-charging network in Europe to 18,000 stations with its partner IONITY, 17,000 charging points in China through its joint venture CAMS New Energy Technology, and to increase the number of fast-charging stations in the United States by 3,500.
The company’s first dedicated battery event, a clear nod to Tesla’s Battery Day, also included a deep dive into novel battery chemistries that will reduce costs by up to 50%. The cell also paves the way for the transition to a solid-state battery cell, which the company anticipates for the middle of the decade. VW has made significant investments in solid-state battery manufacturer QuantumScape.
Volkswagen’s new Unified Premium Battery platform will be rolled out in 2023 and will be used across 80 percent of its EV models. The first to contain the new battery, the Audi Artemis, will be rolled out in 2024.
Scania AB, VW’s brand of heavy-duty trucks and busses, also has plans to increase its share of EVs. Departing from other major heavy-duty players that have opted for hydrogen fuel cells, company representatives on Monday said that it is unequivocally possible to electrify the heavy-duty transportation sector.
Looking to the battery’s end-of-life, VW said it will be able to recycle up to 95% of the battery through a process called hydrometallury.
A sign reads “Gambit Construction Entrance” at a construction site outside Angleton, Texas, on March 4, 2021. [credit: Mark Felix/Bloomberg via Getty Images ]
Tesla is best known as an electric car company, but the firm also has a thriving business in battery storage—including utility-scale battery installations to support the electric grid. Bloomberg reports that Tesla is currently building a battery installation in Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s new home state of Texas. The project is in Angleton, about an hour south of Houston.
Tesla hasn’t publicized the project, which is operating under the name of an obscure Tesla subsidiary called Gambit Energy Storage LLC. When a Bloomberg photographer visited, a worker discouraged picture-taking and said the project was “secretive.” The project appears to consist of 20 large banks of batteries that have been covered by white sheets.
A document on the city of Angleton’s website provides some details about the project. It’s listed as being a project of Plus Power but includes a photo of a Tesla battery cabinet. Plus Power counts two former Tesla employees among its executives. Plus confirmed to Bloomberg that it had started the project, then sold it to an undisclosed party.
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.”