Fast Charge & Fast Money

SPAC-attack, Dahn empire, Million-mile manuscripts, and fast charging

Happy new year! We hope you’re all healthily recharged, and excited to grow alongside Intercalation Station in 2021. This newsletter will continue to intercalate the latest battery news into your inbox so please share and subscribe! For business enquiries, reach out at intercalationstation@gmail.com.


🔬 RESEARCH NEWS

Making a List, Checking it Twice

This week, Joule dropped a checklist to standardize the practice of reporting of performance metrics in battery research. Academics will supplement their papers with the list to provide overall context, rather than just cherry-picked publication-worthy data

We’ve been celebrating an increase in data-sharing, where large companies (e.g. QuantumScape and SolidPower) are publicly presenting results.

It’s a big step forward to increase transparency and is appreciated by everyone in the industry ranging from investors to students. In the past, metrics have been blown out of proportion to raise funding, which doesn’t end well. Nicholas wrote about battery startup fraud in a previous article

“Data sugarcoating” exists in academia too. This list will be a “report card” for academics trying to raise their first round of funding to transfer technologies out of the lab. 

Here are a few examples from the checklist:

  • Amount of electrolyte added and formulation%

  • Component (casing, separator, electrodes etc.) and total mass of the battery

  • C-rates in every relevant figure or in the figure caption

  • Capacities and efficiencies measured in triplicate with spread

  • Non-disingenuous figure axes scales

Initial feedback has been positive (see the thread from @mjlacey) and @tinosulzer also shared BatteryArchive, which is pushing our field towards more open-data practices.

Access the new checklist for your next publication: https://hubs.ly/H0F1Nh80


2 Million Miles in 10 Minutes?

An eye-catching piece of research from Penn State has been widely reported on by media outlets. The Nature Energy report claims that a heated cell-to-pack LFP battery has been developed to charge up to 80% SOC at 6C (10min) and have a 2 million mile degradation lifetime. It wasn’t emphasized that the claims were based on simulations, meaning the battery was computationally designed with an electrochemical-thermal-model and has not (yet) been put into real-world practice. 

High temp extreme fast charging had already been reported on by the Chao-Yang Wang group in their Joule article, where increasing battery temperatures to 60 deg C allowed for 10 minute charge times without Li plating due to improved transport and kinetic properties. Now, they extended this study to LFP. Strictly Arhennius temperature dependence on properties has been assumed, when non-Arhennius behaviour has also been observed by Chang et al

The 2 million mile claim is also based on a degradation model assuming SEI growth consisting of only ethylene carbonate (EC), which was validated against Sony battery data and then extrapolated to graphite with a smaller surface area. However, other electrolyte decomposition mechanisms are also linked to the feared “knee-point” capacity failure

Impressively, the work does connect electrochemical and thermal behaviour across multiple scales, including cell-to-pack designs to standardized driving profiles with vehicle dynamics. This may explain why OEMs have shifted towards temperature stable LFP “blade-battery” designs with heated charging. After Dahn’s 1 million, and Wang’s 2 million, will you have the audacity to report a 3 million mile battery?


🏭 INDUSTRY NEWS

The SPAC Attack

A lot of capital has been flowing into the battery/EV industry. You may be familiar with the high-profile SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) mergers that took companies Quantumscape and Nikola Motors public, but what is SPAC-ing about?

A SPAC is a publicly listed blank check company that is formed to acquire/take public a non-specific company in a broad industry. This allows a shorter pathway to raise a ton of funding while “avoiding” the traditional amounts of scrutiny and disclosure.  The amount of SPAC-ing exploded over 2020, with almost half of Wallstreet IPO dollars raised going to these blank check companies. Some investors have also seen jaw-dropping gains e.g. Kensington Capital (KCAC), a SPAC board with a wealth of automotive experience, merged with Quantumscape (QS) to give a return at one point of +1227%.

This fervour in investor sentiment may come from a FOMO on the “next Tesla”, but also reflects an overwhelming belief that the transition to electrification is inevitable. Battery co’s that recently IPO’d via SPAC include Quantumscape (solid-state), Romeo Power (li-ion packs), and EOS Energy (zinc grid). It also seems any and every EV company has been offered a SPAC, such as Fisker, Hyliion, XLFleet, Canoo, NKLA and more highlighted in the State of Batteries 2020 Report (slide 28). 

Pending or rumoured mergers include:

  • $THCB with Microvast, large-scale Chinese/Texan EV battery maker

  • $ACTC with Proterra, mature electric bus manufacturer

  • $CLII with EVgo, fast-charging networks

  • $STPK with Stem, energy storage management with AI

  • $FIII with Electric Last Mile, EV van fleets

  • $CIIC with Arrival, modular EV vans and buses

  • $NGA with Lion Electric, EV school buses

  • $CCIV with Lucid Motors, EV manufacturer

  • $QELL, target: next-gen transportation 

  • $SOAC, target: sustainable technologies

There’s no such thing as guaranteed gains, especially within the battery industry with considerable technological and manufacturing risks. This was borne out when an under-informed and overhyped public market overreacted to QS’s realistic investor presentation. Don’t even get us started with Nikola Motors…

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT INVESTMENT ADVICE. WE DO NOT PROVIDE FREE BATTERY INVESTMENT ADVICE. For business enquiries, reach out at intercalationstation@gmail.com.

  • A list of SPACs can be found here.


The Dahn Empire Expands

It’s a busy week in the news for the notorious Jeff Dahn. Tesla has extended the original 5-year contract with their Dalhousie research partners through 2026 and appointed new chairs Dr Chongyin Yang and Dr Michael Metzger. Adding expertise in aqueous Li-ion batteries and degradation. The Tesla-Dalhousie partnership has paid off before with the development of patented electrolyte additives.

Professor Dahn has also just been appointed as the Chief Scientific Advisor of Novonix. Novonix specializes the dry microparticle granulation of cathodes, synthetic graphite (recently awarded a $5.57M DOE grant), and battery testing equipment - particularly high-precision coulometry. The Limiting Factor also filmed a nice breakdown. Notably, Prof Dahn’s son Jackson Dahn is Novonix’s Director of Engineering, and CEO Chris Burns earned a PhD from the Dahn group.

Jeff also gave a talk in January at the Stanford’s StorageX symposium series about cathode material expansion and Li-ion battery failure.


Too Fast Too Furious

In further news on fast charging, Israeli startup Storedot has announced a battery with 5-minute charging, or an equivalent of a 12C rate capability. Germanium based anodes have been pointed to as the active anode material to enable such a blistering performance. Indeed Storedot’s patent portfolio suggests anodes based on alloying elements of germanium (Ge), tin (Sn), and silicon (Si). Ge, like Si, has a higher energy density than traditional graphite but offers ~100x increase in electrical conductivity and Li diffusivity. However, Ge is far less abundant and far more expensive than Si, and similar engineering will be needed to manage volume expansion. That said, customers may be looking to pay extra for both power and energy. 

Other “exotic” anodic materials are also being commercialized. Two startups, Echion Technologies and CB2 Tech, both spun out of Cambridge University with fast charging niobium (Nb) based anode materials. When paired with tungsten (W) or molybdenum (Mo), these niobium anodes exhibit rate capabilities orders of magnitude higher than lithium titanate (LTO), an already “fast” material. While marginally more earth-abundant than germanium, no doubt mixed-niobium anodes will also be a premium material, so watch Echion Tech’s and CB2 Tech’s patent activity closely. 

Something to think about: in a bid to match the petrol pump refuelling speeds, have we overemphasized the importance of fast charging? 


👀 Where’s the rest of the newsletter?

This month has been overflowing with battery content. Aside from these longer pieces, we’ll be sharing aggregated content and experimental formats soon, so watch this space.

🌞 THANKS FOR READING!

If you enjoy this newsletter or know someone who would, please subscribe. For tips, feedback, or business enquiries, please email intercalationstation@gmail.com.

About the writers: Andrew is an engineering science PhD student at the University of Oxford (@ndrewwang). Nicholas is a business manager at UCL Business supporting technology commercialization and investments in early-stage startups from UCL, and Venture Fellow with Berkeley SkyDeck (@nicholasyiu).