July News Roundup

batteries of iron, sodium, and lithium of course

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🛠️ Industry News

Iron is in the air (🔋🔋🔋)

Iron runs in the blood of MIT professor and Form Energy co-founder Yet-Ming Chiang, who is renowned for launching the early lithium-iron-phosphate company A123.

Now, Form Energy has revealed its iron-air battery in a WSJ exclusive article. The key chemistry is a reversible reaction between iron and air (rusting). The startup was conceived to fill a long-duration storage role identified from grid modelling by founder Marco Ferrara. Their battery is estimated to cost $20/kWh and discharges over the course of 100+ hours. While round trip efficiencies are half of that of lithium-ion, the overall package may make this factor irrelevant. Form's first partner, Great River Energy, was announced a year ago with hopes to deliver energy resilience during multi-day extreme weather events by 2023.

A 2014 review by McKerracher and colleagues covers many technical aspects of iron-air chemistry. Metal-air batteries share similarities with fuel cells. Instead of iron ions moving between electrodes, an air-breathing cathode reduces oxygen into hydroxide, reacting with the iron anode through the aqueous alkaline electrolyte. While an air cathode sounds cheap, the oxygen reduction and evolution reaction is particularly slow and requires fancy catalysts made of platinum, gold, or metal oxides like cobalt oxide. Is Form avoiding expensive catalysts by accepting the poor kinetics and aiming for long-duration (read: low rate) only?

Compared to zinc-air batteries, iron-air has a lower energy density but does not have to manage dendrites on the negative electrode. Zinc8 is currently commercializing zinc-air batteries for the 10-hour storage market.

Steve LeVine from The Electric will also be speaking with Prof. Yet-Ming Chiang live on August 10th.

Carpe diem sodium (🔋🔋🔋)

Chinese battery giant CATL has announced 160 Wh/kg Na-ion cells. This places sodium-based batteries at an energy density just below parity with LFP. However, CATL also expects superior low-temperature performance and faster charging rates with sodium. Hybrid mixed battery packs with Li and Na cells are also planned, to blend the best of both chemistries. Next targets for Na-ion are set at 200 Wh/kg.

One of the main drivers for Na-ion is the availability and sustainability of lithium resources. In fact, LFP materials have already been reported to be in short supply in China. Perhaps Na-ion will fill that gap. A 100 kWh Na-ion stationary storage battery has also recently been deployed for a micro-grid in Shanxi.

What to read more about the research pathways for Na-ion batteries? The NEXTGENNA project has just published a roadmap in JPhys Energy.

Redwood raises big bucks (🔋🔋🔋)

Redwood Materials, the JB Straubel-led battery recycling startup, has raised $700 million to hire 500 additional employees and triple the size of its recycling facility in Carson City, Nevada. The funds come from a collection of investment groups, hedge funds, and pension boards, which is notable for its lack of traditional EV and battery startup investors.

We'll watch closely how Redwood progresses. In China where recycling is more mature, an article titled "Where are the retired cells?" states that less than 30% of EoL cells reach formal recyclers, informal smaller operations outbidding bigger players in the grey-industrial chain.

Keynote Overload (🔋🔋)

From June 30th to July 9th — a span of just 10 days! — four different battery/EV companies held battery keynote events, perhaps inspired by Tesla’s Battery Day. They also bore a striking resemblance to each other. The events were Renault eWays, SK Innovation Story Day, Stellantis EV Day, and Nio Power Day. BloombergNEF'sJames Frith noted the 260 GWh total capacity announcement by Stellantis, 94% nickel cathodes by SK Innovation, and Renaut's price target of $80/kWh by 2030. Joanna from BatteryBay also tabulated a roadmap and specs comparison between Tesla, VW, Renault, and Stellantis.

Li-metal progress (🔋🔋)

Quantumscape shared a glimpse of their new 10-layer cells from their latest investor letter, along with their heat-treatment facilities. However, the oh-so-critical energy density figure remains missing from QS cell info.

Polymer solid-state startup Factorial has also made 40 Ah cells that were tested at room temperature. Non-solid battery company SES (renamed from Solid Energy Systems) has also announced a $3.6b SPAC deal with a liquid electrolyte + Li metal technology.

Squeezing in the rest (🔋🔋)

Other movements from battery players include:

It does seem many OEMs are shoring up battery material supplies. Importantly, Jadecove's Alex Grant mentions that changing Li sources can alter CO2 emissions by 40%!

Downloading less EV range... (🔋)

Tesla has received a $1.5m slap on the wrist for reducing the voltage limit by 10% on some Model S cars. The throttling was initiated as a protective measure while Tesla investigated potential fire risk before restoring cell settings. While over-the-air improvements are welcome, should Tesla also be able to limit performance when safety is at risk due to temperamental Li-ion cells? Clearly battery management in the real world is much more complex than in the lab.

Stricter battery limits and slower charging may have to be addressed as EVs approach the end of life, just as iPhones were slowed down to balance out battery degradation.

This month in battery fires (🔥)

Powermag has written on all the different strategies in protecting battery systems from thermal runaway. Meanwhile, LG Chem just took out a full NYT ad telling people not to handle Li-ion cells.

🔬 Research News

🎧 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 who’s set to join the Jeff Dahn Research Group in September (@ethandalter).