Big Autos and Small Anodes
Anode-less batteries, Legacy autos on the move, and the LG Chem v. SK Innovation saga
A lot of battery has been calendered into the short month of February - let’s dig in. If you enjoy this newsletter please give us a share and subscribe! For business enquiries, reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
🔬 RESEARCH NEWS
No Anode No Problem
By now we’re all familiar with why lithium metal is the ideal anode for maximizing energy density. However, many practical issues such as purity & cost remain when handling & processing metallic lithium metal foils. Construction of Li-metal cells can be dramatically simplified by plating Li (from the cathode) directly onto a copper anode during the battery’s first charge up. This approach has been dubbed “anode-free”, and has been explored commercially by the now-defunct Pellion Technologies with a liquid electrolyte, and more recently by QuantumScape with a solid electrolyte. Because the cells have zero excess lithium, a N/P ratio of 1, cycle life and degradation of anode-free batteries must be managed carefully.
Alex Louli from the Dalhousie Dahn group presented at the weekly Battery Modeling Webinar Series on the strategies he and his colleagues developed to extend anode-free cell performance with liquid electrolytes to 200+ cycles. They include:
Dual salt custom electrolyte formulations with LiDFOB and LiBF4
Applying mechanical pressures of 1200 kPa during cycling
Formation at elevated temperatures of 40 C
Stripping lithium at a higher rate than plating (faster discharge vs charge ratio)
Narrowing the depth of discharge window
Many of these techniques are designed to alter the Li plating morphology. Hot temperatures make Li-metal more malleable, and applied pressure also improves the density, reducing the surface area of plated lithium. Lower surface areas slow degradation reactions. Use of synergistically paired salts also improved gassing reactions between metal and electrolyte, as well as the coulombic efficiency. Louli also recently showed that anode-free cell performance is enhanced when discharged faster than charged. While this is an impractical cycling condition for cars, anode free may see application in aerial drones and electrified flight. The next target is to triple the cycle life of anode-free cells.
With traditional graphite anodes, Li plating is a sure-sign for imminent cell failure. But what if lithium is plated evenly and reversibly onto the graphite surface itself, like an anode-free lithium layer on top of the anode? Lessons from optimizing anode-free performance have also been applied to graphite to create a “hybrid” anode. Similar to silicon-graphite anodes, this approach provides stable operation with graphite intercalation while also allowing for deeper charge/discharge via lithium plating when the extra capacity is needed. We believe this out-of-the-box thinking to battery design has been underrated by academia.
Yet Another Week of Battery Webinars
If every researcher watched every new research webinar there would be no time to do new research. Strange tongue twister aside, there are some exceptional virtual talks this week listed in our battery & energy storage webinar calendar:
Feb 22: Purdue ECS is hosting Prof. Nav Nidhi Rajput who is speaking on material informatics for next-gen batteries in their Women in Electrochemical Sciences & Engineering webinar series
Feb 23: Argonne National Lab is hosting Stan Whittingham at their “Energy Storage for a Changing World” event - which will also be followed by a panel with Melanie Kenderdine and Mary Powell
Feb 24: Saiful Islam is giving a talk titled “Making a Materials Difference to Green Energy (Batteries Included)”
Feb 24: “The State of Long Duration Energy” is bringing together a panel with LBNL, NREL, Form Energy, Silicon Valley Clean Energy, and Peninsula Clean Energy
Feb 24: ECS is hosting Yan Yao for his talk on “Next-generation Batteries for Electric Vehicles and Stationary Storage”
Feb 25/26: Stanford’s StorageX symposium switches to the Asia timezone with Hong Li and Kisuk Kang speaking about “Solid Batteries Towards Practical Application” and “New Battery Chemistry from Conventional Layered Cathode Materials for Advanced Lithium-ion Batteries”
🏭 INDUSTRY NEWS
How Many EVs Does Will Ferrell Need to Buy to Beat Norway?
Will Ferrell and GM just declared “EV-sales war” on the Norwegians. In the spirit of helping Will “crush those lugers” -- and to wrap our heads around the staggering amount of resources and investment required in the shift to all-electric -- we thought it would be a fun exercise to calculate how many EVs need to be purchased in the US in 2021 to defeat Norway on a per capita basis.
In 2020, Norway led the world in battery EV market penetration, with 54.3% of all new vehicle sales being BEVs. By contrast, the share of new BEVs in America was just 1.8%. This translates to 14.16 vs 0.8 BEVs sold per 1000 people in Norway vs America. Clearly, Will Ferrell and America have a long way to go.
Assuming the total number of vehicles sold in Norway remains fixed in 2021, and the BEV market share increases as expected to 65% of all vehicles sold that year, per capita sales of EVs should increase to 16.96 BEVs sold per 1000 people. If America wants to eke out a narrow victory, they would have to sell more than 5.6 million BEVs per Will Ferrell in 2021 to overtake Norway.
So, besides being unrealistic, is any of this at least theoretically possible? Global battery production in 2020 was roughly 500 GWh. Taking an average pack size of 85 kWh, 95% of battery production capacity would have to go to the US (ignoring the rest of the world…)
While battery production should balloon to 3000+ GWh by 2030, it’s worth considering the impact these factories will have on the environment, and whether world reserves of battery materials would be better spent on e-bikes, buses, and trains.
OMG, the OEMs!
Speaking of GM: in recent weeks, legacy automakers GM, Ford, and Jaguar Land Rover each announced plans to shift some or all of their vehicle production to EVs. Some of these announcements are new, while others fall into existing schemes to go carbon neutral in the not-so-distant future. Here’s what we know about each of the announcements and the battery tech, partnerships, and production developments required for them to happen.
What was announced?
January was a busy month for GM: they pledged $27 billion in investments for EV production and a lineup of 30 EV models by 2025; they’ve committed to “zero tailpipe emissions” for their light-duty vehicles by 2035; and they’re planning to go completely carbon neutral as a company by 2040. They also changed their logo to look more “modern and vibrant,” but ended up just reminding everyone of their biggest competitor.
How are they pulling it off?
GM is closely partnered with LG Chem and has a long history of using their cells in their EVs. Recently, the two companies developed a joint venture, Ultium Cells LLC, to produce high-nickel content pouch cells for GM’s Ultium battery platform. Ultium forms the basis for the new BEV models they’re announcing, and will also be licensed for use by Honda and Acura. Currently, GM’s Chevrolet Bolt does not use this platform.
What was announced?
In February, just a week after GM’s announcement, Ford announced a $22 billion investment in EVs through to 2025. Unlike GM, they haven’t committed to a timetable for shifting all vehicle production to EVs, although a press release from June 2020 indicates the company plans to go carbon neutral by 2050.
In Europe, Ford is promising to produce 100% “zero-emissions capable” vehicles by 2026, which means full battery electric vehicles as well as plug-in hybrids. They expect to produce only BEVs in Europe by 2030. The announcement comes along with a $1 billion investment in their Cologne plant to transform it into an EV-producing facility by 2023.
How are they pulling it off?
Details of the investment plan are sparse, but it looks like the company is partnered closely with VW Group and plans to use the company’s MEB platform for much of their future EV fleet. At this point, Ford offers just two EVs, the Mustang Mach-E and the E-Transit cargo van, both of which do not use the MEB platform. Their cells appear to come from LG Chem’s Poland plant.
Both Ford and VW are partnered with SK Innovation for some of their battery capacity needs, such as the Electric Ford F-150, but it’s unclear what cells will be used for Ford’s European cars, or where cells will come from following the 4 year grace period amid SK’s recent import ban. Keep scrolling for more information on the drama unfolding around SK Innovation’s recent trade dispute.
Missing in recent news is an update on Ford’s 2019 strategic investment in Rivian and what their planned vehicle together will be. Originally slated to be a Lincoln EV built on a Rivian platform, but cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ford is now promising a vehicle under their own nameplate with a Rivian-designed skateboard. However, details are sparse, and it’s not clear which cells Rivian uses (but there’s a good chance they’re 2170s developed by LG Chem).
What was announced?
Jaguar Land Rover, a subsidiary of Tata Motors, announced last week that they will go fully electric by 2039. The strategy sees the Jaguar division going 100% electric by 2025, while Land Rover will only be 60% electric at that point.
Land Rover’s first EV is expected sometime in 2024. The company will continue to develop their own BEV platforms, and is even testing hydrogen fuel cell EV prototypes.
How are they pulling it off?
Jaguar started production of their first EV, the I-Pace, in 2018. Like Ford, it uses pouch cells from LG Chem’s Poland plant. There are also reports of a joint battery factory between JLR and BYD.
K-Drama: LG Chem v. SK Innovation
In a historic patent & trade case this month, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) banned SK Innovation (SK) sales in the US for 10 years. What happened?
The legal battle started in 2019 when LG Chem and Toray Industries sued SK over IP theft. It alleged that SK poached staff from LG Chem and stole trade secrets. Forensic investigations have revealed up to 1900 confidential documents were stolen LG Chem by employees joining SK. Check out this audacious message traded between employees in the legal filings:
“Go to SK with me... We can go to the Advanced Development Team and introduce what has been applied here, take advantage of the situation for 2-3 years, then we will get promoted and let the juniors do the work and we can take it easy.”
The disputed patents covered everything from double-sided tape between cells in battery module designs, more robust polymer separator materials, and advanced graded electrode materials.
SK’s exclusion order will have a ripple effect for partners Ford and Volkswagen. SK only recently commercialized NCM 9-1/2-1/2 lithium-ion batteries, which are planned to power the 2023 Ford F-150 electric pickup trucks. Fortunately, a grace period of 4 years for Ford and 2 years for Volkswagen will allow them to continue using SK batteries while they search for an alternate supplier.
The potential loss of SK’s 10GWh Georgia plant in the US is tremendous, and Georgia hopes to bring in President Biden’s help to overrule the ITC decision, as the SK plant is a big plus for the administration’s green economic policies.
“[Biden] would also be setting an irretrievably horrible precedent that could forever destroy the seed corn of the greatest U.S. competitive advantage, which is its record of invention. If Silicon Valley and the rest of the American creation machine could no longer rely on the sanctity of its trade secrets and patents, they would harbor doubts about the value of billion-dollar investments and years of time spent on difficult, already-risky, and very tricky research” writes Steve LeVine, in his blog The Mobilist.
LG Chem and SK Innovation have also been haggling over a potential settlement, with SK offering $500 million USD compared to LG Chem’s $2.7 billion demand. With the battery progress moving into warp speed, it’s not clear if litigious behavior will protect or hinder the industry.
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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 commercialization and investments in early-stage technologies, and Venture Fellow with Berkeley SkyDeck (@nicholasyiu).
We have a new contributor to Intercalation Station!
Ethan is a battery scientist with experience at startups, research labs, and EV manufacturers across the world. He is currently looking for PhD opportunities (@ethandalter).