April News Roundup

Startups make moves, OEMs give hazy updates, and yet more solid-state battery announcements are made

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🏭 Industry News

This month’s industry news roundup looks a little different. We’re organizing the news based on how much ‘charge’ it brought us:

  • 🔋🔋🔋 100% SOC - fully charged & fully amped

  • 🔋🔋 50% SOC - middling news in, well, the middle

  • 🔋 0% SOC - events that left us feeling drained

Here are the stories that we think you should know about from April!

🔋🔋🔋 100% SOC: Startups Start Manufacturing and Mega Miners Merge

🤝 Canadian company Nano One announced a joint development agreement and partnership with an undisclosed Asian cathode producer to develop low-cost LMNO (lithium nickel manganese oxide) “one-pot” cathode production processes. Nano One claims to have an ESG friendly production process to reduce costs, waste, energy and overall carbon footprint when manufacturing EV batteries.

🤝 London/Israeli startup Addionics has partnered with materials speciality company Saint-Gobain to produce solid-state batteries using their 3-dimensional electrode architecture.

⛏️ Battrion AG has launched a 200MWh/year electrode factory for their fast-charging lithium-ion batteries for their aligned-graphite anode technology, with a pilot investment of 3 million Swiss Francs, and claims the technology will reduce the CO2 footprint of graphite electrode manufacturing.

⛏️ Australian mining companies Orocobre and Galaxy complete $4b merger to create one of the largest (top 5) lithium producers in the world. The merger makes them extremely geographically diverse with projects spanning lithium brine, hard-rock and processing across Western Australia, Argentina and Japan, ready to supply more in a supply-limited battery world.

🔋🔋 50% SOC: OEMs Make Vague Pronouncements

🚗 Ford Motor Company announced plans for a new $185 million battery facility, dubbed “Ion Park”. Like many OEM’s, these lab and pilot-scale R&D projects allow them to stay on top of the game in case vertical integration and expansion into manufacturing becomes economically viable. Meanwhile, they are also cosying up to VW by licensing their platform. We wrote back in February about Ford battery supplier SK Innovations and the uncertainty of Ford’s battery supply once SK’s US sales ban comes into effect. It looks like Ford is mitigating this future supply risk by developing the Ion Park project, which may eventually lead to full-scale cell production (and maybe also some solid-state batteries).

🚗 Honda has joined the all-electric trend. If at first, this sort of news felt exciting, then inevitable, now it truly feels ordinary. Honda has announced a “gradual-fuzzy” shift over the next 20 years, which will give it time to ramp up production. The company is planning at least two EVs based on GM’s Ultium platform by 2024 in North America before offering a wider suite of vehicles based on an original “e:Architecture'' which currently lacks detail. It also seems that hydrogen fuel cells remain on Honda’s table. Oh, by the way, they will also independently develop solid-state batteries in vehicles by 2030 (and if that isn’t enough, they also want to eliminate all traffic collision deaths by 2050). For a company that recently killed off one of its only full EV offerings, this is a tall order.

🚗 In more solid-state news, German OEM BMW has committed to releasing a solid-state battery-powered EV on roads by 2030. Frank Weber (BMW board member) claimed: “the greenest electric car in the world will be a BMW”. We’re seeing more OEMs invest in solid-state battery technology for their vehicles, like VW’s and GM’s announcements last month, and Ford’s and Honda’s announcements this month. However, the path to commercializing the technology is in no way guaranteed.

♻️ Redwood Materials CEO and acronym fan JB Straubel sat down with Phil LeBeau of CNBC for an extended interview earlier this month. The 18-min video explains the imminent need for large-scale LIB recycling for both economic and environmental reasons — but much like Redwood, the video is sparse on details. While claiming recycling rates of 95% for the Ni, Co, Al, and graphite in a battery, the ex-Tesla CTO expressed the need to operate at “100x the current scale” in the near future. Redwood appears to have chosen the hydrometallurgical route, which is preferable to simple pyrometallurgy. But the process still requires great amounts of water, energy, and sulfuric acid, etc. Wastewater and scrap produced by hydrometallurgy at such a large scale — and cell-quality yield — is still largely unknown. Hopefully, the kinks in recycling can be worked out before LFP dominates the waste stream, which will undercut any profit from recovering the valuable metals found in NMC and NCA.

🔋 0% SOC: A Short-Seller Attacks and a Battery Fire Claims Lives

📉 In other news, QuantumScape (QS) came under attack from short-seller Scorpion Capital, who claimed the solid-state startup was a “pump-and-dump SPAC scam” that made “Theranos look like amateurs.” QS’s stock price fell 15% on April 15. While QS and experts within the battery community have mounted a defence of the company, in an industry with more than its fair share of frauds and missteps, it’s a shame that there isn’t standardized third-party testing for startups to prove their claims. Instead, it seems like secrecy will prevail for the foreseeable future. For their part, VW has spoken up in defence of QS since the attack. However, questions about the difficulty of scaling up manufacturing of QS’s batteries still abound. On an entirely different note: battery legend Celina Mikolajczak joins the QS team as an independent director. Celina brings in a wealth of experience from the battery industry from Uber, Tesla, and Panasonic.

🚒 A massive battery fire at a Beijing shopping mall has claimed the lives of two firefighters and injured at least one other, PV Magazine reports. The fire occurred at a solar-powered 25 MWh LFP storage battery used to charge mall-goers’ EVs. The fire took nearly 12 hours and 235 firefighters to extinguish. The battery’s manufacturer, Beijing Gotion Full-Service, has reported an employee missing during the blaze. As batteries increase in size and become more prevalent, firefighters need more tools and training to safely tackle the fires they may create. It’s also clear we can’t rely on ‘safe’ chemistries such as LFP to eliminate the risk of fire. As long as it contains organic electrolyte, a battery can catch fire.

🔬 Research News

🗿 Solid-state electrolyte cracking and failure is an intensely studied barrier. Researchers have been able to visualize how crack propagation precedes dendrite growth in Li6PS5Cl. Similar to spallation in geophysics, potholes form in the electrolyte before lithium fills the gaps and “widens the crack from the rear”.

🚀 NASA’s new SABERS program ( yet another acronym: Solid-state Architecture Batteries for Enhanced Rechargeability and Safety ) is researching how to build batteries for aviation. Their current design employs a unique solid-state sulfur-selenium chemistry along with holey graphene.

🏜 EIS and distribution of relaxation time (DRT) methods have been used to track how silicon anodes transform and lithiate faster. As two distinct SEI layers grew with the cycling of the Si anode, it also improved charge transfer rates.

🚀 Startup movement tracker

  • SES (Massachusetts, USA) raises $139m Series D for Li-metal batteries

  • Volexion (Northwestern University spinout) raises $1.1m seed round to develop graphene coating for lithium-ion batteries.

  • NOHMs Technologies has relaunched as Sionic Energy (New York, USA) to deliver silicon anode products, pivoting away from original electrolyte products.

  • Factorial Energy (Massachusetts, USA) emerged from stealth mode to produce 40Ah solid state batteries for EVs, revealing $40m total capital investment.

  • Nth Cycle (Massachusetts, USA) raises $3.2m for battery recycling technology, led by Clean Energy Ventures.

  • X Shore (Sweden) raised $18m to scale up production battery-powered leisure boats.

  • Fova Energy (China) has raised a new round of funding for AI-powered battery life cycle analysis.

  • Standard Energy raises $8.9 Series A from Softbank to develop vanadium ion batteries.

  • Nanom (Iceland) raises $3m in seed funding for nanoscale nickel-iron batteries.

  • Battery Resources raises $20m Series B for battery recycling and manufacturing.

  • Hercules EV (Detroit, USA) is opening their $20m Series A, with battery technology partnership with Prieto Battery (Colorado State University spinout).

🎧 On our reading/listening list

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About the writers: Andrew is a PhD researcher at the University of Oxford (@ndrewwang). Nicholas is a business manager at UCL Business and Venture Fellow with Berkeley SkyDeck (@nicholasyiu). Ethan is a battery scientist with experience at startups, research labs, and EV manufacturers around the world (@ethandalter).