May News Roundup
Solid-state batteries are looking solid, EV stocks take a tumble, and a veteran startup closes up shop
If you enjoy this newsletter please give us a share and subscribe! For business inquiries, please reach out!
🛠️ Industry News
We’re carrying on with ranking 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
🔋🔋🔋 100% SOC: SSBs Get a Boost, SK Makes More Partnerships, and CATL Tries Out Sodium-ion
💸 Solid Power has raised $130 million in Series B funding from Ford, BMW, and Volta Energy Technologies (Argonne's spinout VC firm). The solid-state startup’s deepening partnership with Ford and BMW continues the “Fantasy Battery Draft” for EV companies & next-gen battery makers (previous picks include VW-Quantumscape and GM-SES). Truly, the war for SSBs in EVs is upon us.
Interestingly, Solid Power also announced new cell formats which use silicon anodes instead of Li-metal. The company hopes to develop the technology into 20Ah cells by the end of the year. Other announcements include a push to scale their current 20Ah Li-metal cells to the 100Ah range and new research on conversion-type cathode materials (re: lithium-sulfur). Steve Levine from The Mobilist delves further into Solid Power’s possible pivot to silicon technology.
🔋 Murata, a Japanese manufacturer best known for its capacitors, has announced the commercialization of solid-state cells in audio equipment, wearables, and IoT. The development was made possible by the company’s acquisition of Sony battery IP in 2016. The roadmap for these “tiny” SSBs seems hopeful, with TDK also developing their own CeraCharge battery to replace coin cells.
There are parallels between Murata’s SSBs and early Li-ion commercialization efforts: traditional Li-ion had its start in portable electronics (commercialized by none other than Sony) after a major research push and years of development. Solid-state might also benefit from low-profile tech development before taking on the EV industry.
♻️ SK Innovation & Kia are partnering to collect all end-of-life battery packs in Korea for second-life applications and recycling. The move is made possible by a new ownership model that Kia is trying out, known as "Batteries as a Service" or BaaS. The BaaS model sees battery packs leased to EV owners rather than sold outright with the rest of the car. This structure allows the pack to return to the carmaker at the end of the vehicle's life where it can be dismantled for reuse or recycled outright. As we discussed two weeks ago, new ownership models such as BaaS are an exciting development and may be crucial to ensuring battery recycling is done properly.
🤝 SK Innovation & Ford have signed a partnership to produce 60 GWh of batteries by 2025. The joint venture, named BlueOvalSK, addresses longstanding questions about where Ford will get its battery supply for its electrification plans. The news is good for Ford, whose upcoming flagship EV — the much hyped and widely preordered Ford F-150 Lightning — has a hefty battery pack and will require a serious amount of battery production (Ford estimates they’ll need 140 GWh of battery production in North America and 240 GWh globally by 2030). The news also comes a month after SK settled with LG over alleged intellectual property theft — with SK paying LG $1.8 billion to help clear the air.
🧂 CATL, a top Li-ion manufacturer, has announced that their sodium-ion batteries will be hitting the market as early as July. Many existing sodium battery startups like Faradion and Natron have targeted data centre power backups and other grid storage applications. Of course, as sodium is more abundant than lithium, costs are expected to be cheaper. Battery expert K.M. Abraham has compared the two technologies and expects Na-ion to be 10-20% cheaper (while raw materials cost less, processing costs remain similar). Energy density is also lower, sitting in the 100-150 Wh/kg range, or about half of what Li-ion offers. CATL shows there is commercial legitimacy for more sustainable Na-ion batteries.
🔋🔋 50% SOC: EV Stocks Slump and Battery Recycling Efforts Continue to Raise Questions
📉 According to Reuters, in a span of three weeks from late April to mid-May, $200 billion in value was lost from 32 EV stocks. Tesla, by far the most valuable of the 32 companies included in the analysis, accounted for three-quarters of the drop alone. This isn’t the first time EV stocks have dipped in recent months, and in a crowded field of startups and pre-revenue companies, it likely won’t be the last. In a year that’s seen unprecedented growth of meme stocks, SPACs, and NFTs, a market correction could be healthy for the EV industry, if a little disappointing.
♻️ Li-Cycle & GM have announced an agreement that will see Li-Cycle accept 100% of cell manufacturing waste from Ultium Cells, the cell-making joint venture between GM and LG. The move is part of an effort on GM’s part to divert 90% of all its manufacturing waste from landfills and incineration by 2025. Li-Cycle claims it can recover 95% of the cobalt, nickel, manganese, and lithium in cells, but hasn’t mentioned the fate of binders, separators, or electrolytes. Raising even more questions, GM has yet to announce plans for recycling its vehicles’ end-of-life battery waste.
🔋 0% SOC: Shell Fights Back Against Court Ruling and Oxis Energy Meets a Sad End
🛢️ Shell plans to appeal a recent ruling from a Dutch court requiring they cut carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. At the centre of the case are claims by the oil-and-gas giant that they are on track to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, which they hope to achieve by investing in renewable energies and building EV charging infrastructure.
The shift to carbon neutrality is something we’ve seen from car companies as well, with Ford, Honda, GM, and a slew of others claiming to be on track to achieve net-zero targets at some far-off date — usually 2040 or 2050. Besides electrifying their vehicle fleets, it isn’t clear how companies hope to achieve total carbon neutrality, although purchasing complicated, insufficient carbon offsets is likely a cornerstone of any plan. In Shell’s case, the court found their claims unconvincing, writing, "[it] is not concrete, has many caveats and is based on monitoring social developments rather than the company's own responsibility for achieving a CO2 reduction." As the world grows increasingly electric, we welcome the increased scrutiny of major emitters, including those using electrification plans to hide their dirty pasts.
😥 Longtime British lithium-sulfur startup Oxis Energy is in administration just a month after announcing a pilot project to test their new quasi-solid-state cell technology. Around 60 employees have been laid off as a result of the news. Intercalation Station has received the following comment from an anonymous employee:
"We’re heartbroken that the company has come to an end, but we’re very proud of the progress we made over the last decade. I'm hopeful that someone takes up the mantle of lithium-sulfur commercialisation in the future.”
You can read more about this story in our special on Oxis published yesterday. If you’d like to help out former Oxis staff land on their feet, check out the Oxis Alumni Directory below:
🔬 Research News
🖥 The 239th ECS Conference is on right now, through to June 3. Forget watching Netflix, check out all these battery research presentations which are completely free and available to watch online!
🥪 A Nature paper from Harvard reports a Li-metal solid-state battery that lasts an extraordinary 10,000 cycles at a C-rate of 20C, at 55 degrees centigrade, and with LGPS/LPSCl electrolytes. Unique aspects of the technology include the use of a hybrid graphite layer on top of the Li-metal anode (a similar strategy to the Samsung team, who used a carbon-silver coating) and a multi-electrolyte layered structure (which has been likened to a BLT sandwich of all things).
However, the massive pressures required to achieve this performance (250 MPa) are similar to that of industrial waterjet stone cutters. We would like to think there’s a way for good research to get attention without resorting to hype… but perhaps this also has something to do with the fact that Harvard’s Technology Development office is actively seeking to commercialize this tech.
Harvard University @HarvardFixing a 40-year-old problem, Harvard researchers have designed a long-lasting, stable, solid-state lithium battery https://t.co/2IpihWhjAW
🦘 Researchers at the University of Queensland have been making news with an aluminium-ion battery with a graphene cathode that “charges up to 70 times faster” than traditional Li-ion. Internal testing shows nearly triple the energy density of previous Al-ion benchmarks set by Stanford. The reported 150 Wh/kg is still a third of cell-level values for LiBs, but these AlBs have power densities that rival supercapacitors.
Folks with graphene-induced gag reflexes beware: this research output is being promoted commercially by the Graphene Manufacturing Group. Previous work from the group showed that graphene foam cathodes with ionic liquid electrolytes improve the capacity and voltage compared to other graphite-based solutions.
🧮 Break-even analyses for LLZO solid-state batteries has been published by an ETH Zurich team. Key takeaways centre around material requirements to reach relevant performance targets. LLZO electrolytes need to be in the 20-50 μm thickness range, and cathode loading needs to be more than 3.5 mAh/cm2. Interestingly, the excess thickness of lithium metal foils do not actually affect the gravimetric energy density that much. Check out the paper for some nice plots!
🚀 Startup Tracker
Solid Power (Colorado, USA) raises $130m Series B led by Volta Energy Technologies alongside BMW and Ford.
24M (Massachusetts, USA) raises $57m Series E to commercialize SemiSolid technology.
Beta Technologies (Vermont, USA) raises $368m Series A for eVTOL applications focused on defense, delivery, and logistics.
Tritium (Australia) to go public via SPAC at a $1.2B valuation to build EV fast chargers.
EnergyX (Texas, USA) raises $20m in funding to develop direct lithium extraction (DLE) technology.
ESS Inc. (Oregon, USA) to be publicly listed through a merger with ACON S2 Acquisition Corp to develop long-duration iron flow battery energy storage systems.
WeaveGrid (California, USA) raises $15m led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures to scale software for EV charging.
Twaice (Germany) raised a $26m Series B to scale its battery analytics software.
Coreshell (California, USA) earns a $1M NSF SBIR Phase II award.
🎧 On our reading/listening list
Staying current with the battery value chain, Intercalation Station's special feature published in Climate Tech VC
Millions of electric cars are coming. What happens to all the dead batteries? by friend of Intercalation Station Ian Morse
The Crazy Week That Upended the Central Math of Batteries [The Mobilist]
Battery gigafactories will rapidly make e-cars even greener [Clean Energy Wire]
The Surprise Court Ruling That Cut Through Shell's Greenwashing Facade [The New Republic]
🤿 Startup Dive: StoreDot
Last month, we launched a new series where we're diving deep into startups and their underlying technology. The next issue is coming soon so upgrade your subscription to get it fresh!
🌞 Thanks for reading!
📧 For tips, feedback, or inquiries, please reach out!
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).