June News Roundup
Gigafactory FOMO, second life taking lives, and the latest research
Everything old is new again, including batteries!
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🛠️ Industry News
Gigafactory FOMO (🔋🔋🔋)
Seriously, who hasn't signed a gigafactory joint venture this month?
Northvolt and Volvo are establishing a new 50 GWh gigafactory (called northvolvolt?), starting production in 2026. This is a step forward in Volvo's plans to have 50% of total sales be electric by 2025, and 100% by 2030. Along with a further $2.75b raised to expand their Ett factory, the Swedish battery producer looks to have a 33% expansion on its horizon.
Renault announced two collaborations with Envision AESC (2.4b euro for 24 GWh by 2030), and Verkor (20 GWh by 2030) for high-performance batteries. The combined projects should create 4500 jobs in northern France.
Porsche and Customcells have invested in a joint venture to produce specialty batteries for motorsport. With an output of 100 MWh/year (approx 1000 EVs with 100 KWh packs), these silicon-NMC cells will handle the high energy/power/temperature required for racing conditions
UK is also gearing up for gigafactories, with Ford, Nissan, Samsung, Britishvolt, InoBat, and LG in discussions. As governments are actively courting them, LG is purposely playing hard to get, pitting the UK and Spanish projects against each other. Meanwhile, A new battery factory (read: empty shed) has also been announced in Coventry, adjacent to Jaguar Landrover
Jon Regnart @JonRegnartBritishvolt, Itavolt... in true European fashion there's now a Basquevolt. VaticanVolt to be announced soon.... https://t.co/WtNiDPTGTT
Mattias Simolka did some sleuthing into the potential chemistries used by these European gigafactories.
Other partnerships also emerged:
Nano One and Johnson Matthey enter into a Joint Development Agreement for lithium-ion battery materials. This agreement will aim to manufacture JM's eLNO nickel-rich cathode materials using Nano One's special one-pot process to make the manufacturing more cost-efficient and better performing.
Israeli startup StoreDot enters into a partnership with EVE Energy to manufacture their extreme fast charging (XFC) technology based on silicon-dominant anodes. The new deal builds upon their past relationship that dates back to 2018.
Battery Resourcers forms a partnership with Honda to recycle old EV batteries, claiming 97% material recovery. Honda’s batteries will initially be processed by Battery Resourcers in Worcester and later at a new plant to be operational in 2022, capable of processing 20+ million pounds of batteries.
Solid State, Solid Power, Solid Stonks (🔋🔋🔋)
Last month we wrote on Solid Power's new technology roadmap. Now Solid Power has announced a plan to go public via SPAC. The merger has given Solid Power a valuation of $1.2b. By comparison, Quantumscape's valuation when their SPAC deal was announced in September 2020 was $3.3b. Solid Power has had investment support from Volta Energy Technologies (which just raised a new $200m fund!) and Umicore, both veterans of the battery industry.
Solid Power has confirmed they do not include the use of any liquids or gels. Ultimately, the question of an all-solid or hybrid + “a squirt of liquid” approach comes down to whatever maximizes performance.
BASF recycles (🔋🔋)
German chemical giant BASF has just announced a prototype recycling plant that will run alongside its cathode active material production line. It will be designed to recycle Li, Ni, Co, and Mn from end-of-life batteries, and also off-spec active material scrapped during production. We expect the latter to be the major feedstock to the recycling plant as electrode materials make up the majority of the cost of a cell, where scrap rates can be anywhere from 5-15%.
No information has been given on their chosen method, though BASF has presented recently on hydrometallurgical recycling. There has also been recent R&D from others on recycling with green solvents and ultrasonic delamination too.
Also on recycling, Hans Eric Melin discussed public perception and whether fear-mongering around the "millions of tons of black mass" is warranted. Read his tweet thread on this topic!
Big oil going for the new oil (🔋🔋)
Schlumberger has announced a direct lithium extraction project. The oil giant is partnering with Panasonic North America to source the new oil, battery-grade lithium, at their collaborative pilot plant in Nevada called NeoLith Energy. Direct lithium extraction (DLE) should be welcomed by battery manufacturers as they search for sustainable sources. DLE technology, which typically uses selective membranes, also has a number of advantages such as saving brine water and land, with a process that leads to purer concentrates for downstream processing. Tesla's "salt + clay = lithium" announcement during their Battery Day may also rely on DLE.
KAUST scientists also recently published a creative application of solid-state electrolytes for DLE from seawater. Although solid-state electrolytes are exactly the single-ion (Li+) conducting membranes needed for DLE, their current cost is prohibitive to say the least.
Second life takes lives (🔋)
China's Energy Administration is pausing second-life EV grid storage projects after an explosion and fire killed 2 firefighters in the process. This halt comes as it looks to assess routes for safer battery management and regulation.
While second-life is ideal on paper, many operational concerns exist as batteries become more and more unpredictable as they age. Careful management is a must, otherwise, these wholesome "retired second-life cells" may actually be toiling away without social security until burnout leads to their fiery demise.
🔬 Research News
Here's a grazing platter of research from the academic side of batteries:
A new battery checklist for reporting performance metrics from ACS Energy Letters
The Battery500 consortium published a comparison of Li-free, thick, and thin Li-metal + liquid electrolyte pouch cells. The cells, which used a LiFSI:DME:TTE electrolyte, showed that the "goldilocks" 20 um thin Li had the most stable cycling, while thick and Li-free anodes had poor lifetimes due to competing SEI effects. The best cell lasted 600 cycles with 350 Wh/kg
Merryweather and team developed a way to use optical microscopes to visualize the way electrode particles lithiate, something that was previously done on massive synchrotron particle accelerators
Material scientists do "one-pot synthesis", battery modellers do "one-shot predictions" for degradation trajectories with deep learning which was able to work out where the knee-point was - a critical step for grading second-life cells.
Schimpe et al presented a control strategy that tunes battery current based on thermals and degradation to prolong the overall lifetime. Just be careful not to be hit with a $113m lawsuit for throttling iPhone performance...
Current collectors are not completely stable in lithium ion batteries, and are a source for corrosion and degradation. Guo & Thornton write up a comprehensive review on this topic.
And now, an interesting tidbit on the exponential growth of papers but linear growth of ideas:
🚀 Startup Tracker
Solid Power (Colorado, USA) to list on NASDAQ via SPAC at a $1.2b valuation.
Faction Technology (San Francisco, USA) raises $4.3M to deploy 3-wheeled EVs for driverless delivery.
UBCO (New Zealand) raised $10m to build all-wheel-drive electric bikes.
Electra Vehicles (Massachusetts, USA) raised $3.6m seed round for smart battery packs.
Electric Era (Seattle, USA) raised $3m to build electric vehicle charging stations.
Grinntech (India) raises a $2M bridge round for their lithium-ion battery packs.
Circunomics (Germany) raises a $1.8m seed round for battery recycling using data.
🎧 On our reading/listening list
Berkeley Lab. How to Make Lithium-ion Batteries Invincible.
Bloomberg NEF. Electric Vehicle Outlook 2021.
QuantumScape. How to benchmark solid-state battery performance.
Our World in Data. The price of batteries has declined by 97% in the last three decades.
The Limiting Factor. Nine months of research on Tesla Battery Day.
BatteryBits (Alex Grant and Kathyrn Goodenough). Is There Enough Lithium to Make All the Batteries?
Venkat Srinivasan at NGenE2021. Ask me anything about batteries.
Battery Caffè Podcast. Market trends for solid state batteries.
Prof. Anna Stefanopoulou. A conversation on battery technology.
🤿 New series on silicon anode companies
Subscribe and read our new SILICON SERIES, highlighting the key technology between each company. In our first issue, we look at Advano, Amprius, and Enevate.
🌞 Thanks for reading!
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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).