January News Roundup
Tricky press releases, global lithium mine pushback, and astonishingly cool Chinese battery swapping infrastructure
ICYMI: check out our 2021 report on the state of the battery industry:
The report — written in collaboration with our pals at BatteryBits — is 130 pages long and free to read! Have feedback? Reach out via twitter or email.
🛠 Industry News
ONE Car, 752 miles, lots of questions
On January 5th, battery pack engineering startup Our Next Energy (ONE) announced they had retrofitted a Tesla Model S Long Range Plus with an experimental battery pack, increasing its energy from 103.9 kWh to 207.3 kWh. ONE tested the car by driving it 752 miles on a single charge at an average speed of 55 mph. To get an idea of how much range this is, the exact same car was driven 422.7 miles at 65 mph by Car and Driver a few months before the retrofit.
So how’d they do it? ONE’s CEO, former Ford/A123/Apple alum Mujeeb Ijaz, claims that the eventual product the prototype will morph into — the Gemini — will use a hybrid of two cell types containing “sustainable materials” such as LFP and an undisclosed manganese-rich chemistry. This caused some confusion in the media, with battery-news stalwart Steve LeVine going so far as to claim that the battery in the prototype itself was a hybrid of LFP cells and manganese-rich anode-free lithium metal cells.
This was eventually corrected — but only somewhat. LeVine and others (including the venerable Matt Lacey), claimed that the battery pack, while not containing next-gen manganese-rich cells, was still a hybrid pack featuring LFP in addition to an NMC range extender.
Some digging into the Car and Driver article, however, reveals this:
“…the prototype pack used in the demonstration was powered by different cells [than the proposed LFP/manganese-rich hybrid cells in future Gemini packs]. The capacity of more than 200 kilowatt-hours was provided by high-energy cobalt-nickel cells”
So, the entire capacity was seemingly delivered by off-the-shelf NMC cells. How they were able to cram enough of them into a Tesla to go 752 miles on a single charge is beyond me, but using high-energy NMC and driving the car at a relatively slow 55 mph certainly didn’t hurt.
Does China have solid-state EVs? Sort of
The state-owned Donfeng Motor Corporation, one of China’s largest automakers, has delivered 50 vehicles containing what they claim to be solid-state batteries. The folks at CarNewsChina.com suspect the batteries used contain a lithium oxide solid electrolyte with small amounts of liquid electrolyte, making them really just semi solid-state.
These batteries are being made in partnership with Gangfeng Lithium, a company better known for being one of the world’s largest lithium suppliers, but who has recently expanded their battery manufacturing business with a focus on various “new-type” chemistries.
Does China have battery swap stations? Absolutely
In more out-there Chinese EV news, battery manufacturing giant CATL has launched a new battery swapping service named EVOGO. CATL says their EVOGO stations can swap a battery pack in one minute. If that sounds crazy fast, check out the Twitter video below of an unrelated (but similar) battery swap station in China. (Tweet lovingly pulled from this delightful Jalopnik article.)
Despite the total lack of battery swapping infrastructure in North America, this isn’t particularly exciting news in China — battery swap stations are already well-established infrastructure there, with companies such as Aulton, NIO, and Geely operating hundreds of swap stations each. In fact, NIO just opened their first swap station outside China, located in Norway, and is on track to build thousands more by 2025. Perhaps the future of fast-charging is no charging at all.
Rivian making revenue
Back in November, Rivian had the unglamorous distinction of being the most valuable US company with zero revenue owing to their inability to produce and deliver vehicles. Now they’re on track to produce 200 vehicles per week, and have delivered nearly 1,000 already — including this one I spotted in a Bay Area parking lot.
The road to production hasn’t been easy for Rivian. The Amazon-backed company was reportedly in talks with Samsung SDI to form a joint venture to produce batteries for their electric pickup trucks — talks which ended amidst Rivian’s production struggles. Rivian’s stock also declined 45% from its peak of $172 per share shortly after its IPO in November. The truck, however, looks nifty in person. Congrats on the revenue, Rivian.
Sony eyes the EV market
Sony showed off a couple of surprisingly well-developed EV prototypes at CES 2022. The presentation, which features a sedan called the Vision-S and an SUV called the Vision-S 02, comes two years after the company made a similar surprise announcement. This year, however, Sony is gearing up for production and has even created a new operating company, Sony Mobility, to tackle future commercial development.
The move is reminiscent of two other forays into the EV space by high-design consumer electronics brands: Dyson’s ambitious solid-state-powered EV, which was almost immediately scrapped, and Apple’s yet-to-be-announced but widely anticipated ‘Project Titan’.
Unlike Apple and Dyson, Sony’s approach to the rigmarole of EV development seems commendably restrained: they’re partnering with Magna-Steyr for manufacturing; they’re not committing to full-self-driving; and the company hasn’t made a peep about offering “next-gen” batteries in their packs.
Speaking of batteries, there’s no word yet on where the cells for the Vision-S will come from, but consider it a missed opportunity for the company which introduced the world to the commercial Li-ion battery in 1991 and sold off their battery division to Murata back in 2016.
Lithium mine pushback
If you’re waiting for a break from the constant news of increasing lithium prices, don’t hold your breath. New lithium mining projects, which are sorely needed to address lithium shortages in EV battery production, are facing backlash from nearby communities, environmentalists, and even entire countries concerned about their negative environmental impact.
In Nevada, environmentalists and local Indigenous communities are protesting the development of a 60,000 ton-per-year lithium carbonate mine by Lithium Americas at Thacker Pass. According to an Environmental Impact Statement prepared for the development, 3,224 gallons of water per minute will be needed for the majority of its planned 46 year lifespan. Other lithium projects in the state, such as Ioneer’s proposed mine at Rhoylite Ridge, are facing backlash for their anticipated negative impact on endangered local flora.
Chile, the world’s second-largest producer of lithium, may end up slowing the development of future mines. The country, which is in the midst of writing a new environmentally-minded constitution, recently elected a former student activist as president who is exploring ways of nationalizing lithium mines. Other politicians are attempting to shut down hastily made plans for 400,000 tons worth of new lithium mines made in the final days of the previous president.
In Serbia, widespread protests at the beginning of the year have resulted in the government revoking mining licenses for a planned $2.4 billion lithium mine by Rio Tinto. Environmentalists are now seeking a complete moratorium on lithium mining in the country.
🔬 Research News
Online battery manufacturing modelling calculator
Researchers from Université de Picardie Jules Verne have developed a free online tool for 3D manufacturing modelling of electrode materials. The platform, named ARTISTIC, was designed to have a user-friendly interface and is available at this website (source code available on Github).
Batteries for storage and structure
A new paper from Imperial College London explores structural energy storage devices (SESDs) incorporating carbon fiber composite electrodes. For the uninitiated, SESDs are batteries which are designed to multitask by storing energy while also supporting mechanical loads, which can be useful for reducing the overall system weight in applications where weight matters.
New solid-state electrolytes
Researchers at the University of Waterloo and Justus Liebig University have developed an all solid-state battery using a range of lithium mixed-metal chlorospinels as the electrolyte (ionic conductivity: 2.0 mS/cm). Meanwhile researchers at Georgia Tech and KAIST have demonstrated an elastomeric solid-state electrolyte that is mechanically flexible and can accommodate volumetric changes of prolonged lithium plating/stripping (ionic conductivity: 1.1 mS/cm).
Long haul transport
A collaboration between University of Münster and Porsche did some cost modelling exploring battery-electric trucks (BETs) and hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks (FCETs), emission-free alternatives to diesel-powered trucks. The study showed BETs outperform FCETs for distances under 600 km.
🚀 Startup Tracker
It’s a big one this month (we’ve included a few from December too)!
Britishvolt (UK) secures £1.7b for UK gigaplant for battery manufacturing.
Hydrostor (Canada) raises record-setting $250m investment for compressed air storage in underground caves.
Factorial Energy (Massachusetts, US) raises $200m Series D round led by Mercedes-Benz and Stellantis to deploy solid-state batteries.
Lithion Recycling (Canada) raises the first tranche of $125m Series A for lithium-ion battery recycling.
Faradion (UK) is acquired for £100m by Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Limited for its sodium-ion battery technology.
StoreDot raises $80m in Series D funding for extreme fast charging (XFC) technology.
Nexeon (UK) raises $80m investment to scale silicon anode technology.
Standard Energy (Korea) raises $53m (65b won) for vanadium-ion batteries.
Parallel Systems (California, US) raises $50m Series A to build autonomous battery-electric rail cars.
Skeleton Technologies (Estonia) raises $42m for supercapacitor manufacturing.
EVage (India) raises $28m seed round for electric trucks.
Addionics (UK) raises $27m Series A for 3D current collectors.
Qnovo (California, US) raises $24m Series C funding for battery management software.
Keliber (Finland) awarded €7m grant for sustainable lithium hydroxide production.
Aceleron (UK) raises £5m to bring refurbished battery packs to Africa.
ChargeNet (California, US) raises $6.2m seed round for fast charging hubs at fast-food restaurants.
HeyCharge (Germany) raises $4.7m seed round for underground parking lot EV charging.
Cling Systems (Sweden) raises $2.3m seed round for a B2B marketplace platform for reuse and recycling of lithium-ion batteries.
🎧 On our reading/listening list
Intercalation Station x Battery Brunch. The Battery Report 2021 (plus our feature in Morning Brew!).
TECHtricity. Battery Swapping Details Incoming.
CarbonBrief. State of the climate: How the world warmed in 2021.
Climate Tech VC. $40B 2021 climate venture recap.
The Limiting Factor. The BYD Blade Battery Evaluated: The Hype Is Real (Mostly).
Matt Lacey. Comparison of battery cells.
Lithium-ion Rocks!. North America’s Unconventional Lithium Promise (with Alex Grant).
ACCURE Podcast. Lithium Iron-Phosphate Batteries (with Matthieu Dubarry).
Redefining Energy. From PowerPoint to Gigafactory.
The Carbon Copy. Who will benefit from the lithium land grab in California?.
Green Rocks. Cobalt miners call out 'neocolonialism' as firms avoid accountability.
🌞 Thanks for reading!
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