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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:
Tesla has sold ultracapacitor acquisition Maxwell to UCAP power but kept its dry electrode IP. It seems the team is still hard at work ironing out the kinks to scale the dry coating method:
Johnson Matthey has bought out the now defunct Oxis Energy’s IP portfolio and assets
Gotion picked up a 1.8m sqft facility from Bosch to retrofit and manufacture batteries with part-owner VW
Tesla and BHP sign a long-term supply contract for "sustainable nickel", estimated at 18 kT/year
GM is working with CTR & Lilac Solutions on a direct lithium extraction process in California's Salton sea
LG has invested a further $5.2b into EV battery materials to reduce dependence on China
Daimler and Albermarle intend to partner to directly source future Li supply and recycling
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.
Sawyer Merritt 📈🚀 @SawyerMerrittNEWS: Tesla has agreed to pay $1.5M to settle claims a software update temporarily reduced maximum battery voltage in 1,743 Model S sedans. Owners of the vehicles will get $625 each. https://t.co/IKOzNvPrE1
This month in battery fires (🔥)
A section of Tesla's 13 ton Aussie mega-grid battery caught fire, taking crews 24 hours to put out
Prof Ray Wills, AZ 💉💉 @ProfRayWillsThere's a swag of peeps anxious to poo poo the new tech when as a consequence of being new tech, occasionally has a bad day, despite being way better and safer on multiple metrics than the older tech it replaces Way better Battery fire --- versus old tech --- oil refinery fire https://t.co/8ssPiLGsuF
Chevy recalls 68,000 Bolt EVs a second time due to their continued fire risks. This came after five cars had thermal runaways with cells made by LG Chem
100 tons of Li-ion batteries burnt in Illinois, causing the evacuation of 3000 people. A company named "Superior Battery" had stockpiled cells without any communication to the fire department
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
Using acoustics on batteries to observe Li-plating & electrolyte gassing
Protective electrolyte additives VC, FEC, & LiDFP are studied
How do stack pressures change in solid-state alloy-anode batteries?
Predicting battery lifetimes from field data
Alloying foil anodes are investigated
Geography has a big impact on the economics of battery recycling
How does tortuosity uncertainty impact electrode structures?
🎧 On our reading/listening list
Eli Leland. So you want to build a battery factory
The Interchange. Interview with Form Energy CEO
The Limiting Factor. Tesla’s Q2 battery update
🌞 Thanks for reading!
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).