October News Roundup
The spookiest month of the year brought us fiendish battery fires, frightening commodity prices, and Tom Brady
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🛠️ Industry News
Lithium prices go boom (again)
Remember last month when we said lithium prices were increasing? They’re still doing that. In fact, the price of just about every battery component is rising, and everyone is writing about it (but we did it first).
According to a report from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, prices for raw materials such as cobalt hydroxide, nickel sulphate, and lithium carbonate are up a staggering 82%, 34%, and 313%(!!!), respectively, over prices from last year.
But that’s not all. Everything from binders to current collectors are increasing in price, too. Here’s a tweet that shows rising prices for battery components in China:
And here’s the data from the above tweet calculated as percentages:
LFP material: +67%
NMC material: +58%
Graphite anode: +30%
Copper foil (current collector): +32%
Aluminum foil (current collector): +29%
PVDF (binder): +155%
If all of this sounds very very bad, it’s because it is. As a result of rising material and component costs, China's second-largest battery manufacturer, BYD, has warned that their products will increase in price by 20% starting this month. Benchmark also forecasts that, for the first time in over a decade, the downward trend of lithium-ion battery pack prices will reverse.
These signals have been met with a swift response from industry: the adoption of LFP. Automakers are making the switch to the iron-based cathode to bulletproof themselves from future nickel-and-cobalt supply issues. Notably, Tesla and Volkswagen have announced major investments in LFP technology this year, with Tesla committing to a majority of their batteries using LFP moving forward.
In 2020, lithium-ion battery prices were reported to be $137/kWh and on track to reach the holy grail of $100/kWh. That’s not happening anymore. Instead, the future brings us material shortages, potential delays in mass-market adoption of electrified vehicles, and — on the bright side — perhaps the adoption of entirely different battery chemistries, such as sodium-ion for grid storage applications.
Hertz ❤️ Tesla → Tesla 💔 Hertz
Following a year of historic covid-and-bankruptcy-induced inventory sell offs, Hertz announced last week that they’d placed an order for 100,000 Tesla Model 3s to help replenish their global rental car fleet. This week, Elon Musk said that “no contract has been signed” between the two companies.
According to Hertz, who claims that deliveries of Model 3s have already begun, their $4.2 billion purchase order will be realized over a 14 month period. According to Elon Musk, Tesla has more demand for vehicles than supply, and the Hertz deal has “zero effect” on their economics.
Musk’s indifference isn’t really surprising — Tesla has historically struggled to meet production deadlines and deliver vehicles to customers in a timely fashion. Also, 100,000 vehicles represents 10% of Tesla’s annual production capacity, so it’s not hard to believe that they won’t be able to deliver this amount to a single customer. Or at least not quickly.
Assuming everything else with the quasi-deal proceeds as planned, Hertz says they’ll be investing in their own charging infrastructure for their customers to use, in addition to customers having access to Tesla’s own supercharger network. The company also announced that impossible human being/suspected cyborg Tom Brady is taking part in an ad campaign to showcase their new fleet.
Besides displaying yet another example of Musk’s capricious tweeting behaviour, lots have been made of the news — from it cementing the mainstream status of EVs to it further demonstrating the unstoppable force that is Tesla’s stock price (the company is now valued at an unreal $1 trillion thanks largely in part to Hertz’s announcement). But by far the strangest take comes courtesy of a company called Global Warming Solutions Inc., which claims the deal “validates the commercialization of [their] revolutionary sodium ion battery technology.”
Solid-state batteries are really catching on (fire)
Before I get to the battery fire: some semi-good news for semi-solid-state battery enthusiasts.
Newcomer Factorial Energy (out of stealth mode in April 2021 with their 40 Ah cells for EVs) has announced a strategic investment from Korean OEMs Hyundai and Kia. Factorial claims to have developed a commercially viable semi-solid-state technology (FEST™️) that’s electrode chemistry agnostic and appears to feature some liquid electrolyte. Factorial and Hyundai join the ranks of other OEM-startup partnerships in the solid-state EV race, including:
Volkswagen + QuantumScape
Ford/BMW/Hyundai + Solid Power (yes, Hyundai is double-dipping)
Renault/Mitsubishi/Nissan + Ionic Materials
Mercedes-Benz + Hydro-Québec/Blue Solutions
GM/Hyundai + SolidEnergy Systems (yes, Hyundai is… triple-dipping?)
Nio/Enovate + ProLogium
Meanwhile, SK Innovation (who, like Hyundai, can’t commit to just one solid-state startup) has partnered with Solid Power to bring solid-state batteries to market. The two companies are committed to producing all-solid-state batteries employing an NMC cathode and high-content silicon anode with a volumetric energy density target of 930 Wh/L.
Unfortunately, the road to working commercial SSBs is paved with potholes (explosions and fires). In Stuttgart, Germany, a Mercedes-Benz eCitaro G electric bus featuring a solid-state battery seems to have initiated a fire at a bus depot (coincidentally named the SSB) at the beginning of October, destroying 25 buses valued at €10 million.
Mercedes’ eCitaro G buses are notable for using an industry first solid-state lithium metal polymer (LMP) battery developed by Blue Solutions (a subsidiary of Bolleré) who’s licensing solid-state technology from Hydro-Québec. The battery contains a lithium metal anode, LFP cathode, and a two-micron thick PEO-based solid electrolyte. These batteries are bundled up into a 441kWh pack which needs to be heated to 80°C to operate. Besides developing batteries for Mercedes-Benz, Blue Solutions supplies Actia/Denning (Australian buses), RATP (French public transport BlueBus), and Gaussin (electric tractors).
This isn’t the first time eCitaro G buses have caused problems. Earlier this year, a number of eCitaro buses were recalled in Wiesbaden, Germany following the discovery of an “insulation fault” which posed a risk of short circuiting. Shortly afterwards, battery fires at bus depots containing eCitaro buses in Dusseldorf and Hanover occurred — but there wasn’t definitive proof that an eCitaro G caused these.
Before this, Blue Solutions claimed that solid-state is “safer than lithium-ion battery technology,” which is a fairly widespread belief and one of the main arguments in favour of pursuing solid-state research. Perhaps this news will serve as a sobering reminder that safety can’t be taken for granted, no matter the chemistry you’re working with.
OEM partnerships, investments, and commitments
Evergrande — the Chinese real estate company on the verge of collapse, not the ship that got stuck in the Suez canal earlier this year (that’s the Ever Given) — wants to get into the EV space in an attempt to turn their fortunes around. It’s a strange move for the company, which has zero experience in the automotive industry. However, Hui Ka Yan, the company’s chairman, has recently funnelled money into the acquisition of a Swedish EV maker and a Chinese battery manufacturer. We expect these plans to turn out about as well as Kodak’s ill-fated crypto-mining pivot in 2018.
Stellantis and LG are forming a joint venture to set up a 40 GWh battery manufacturing facility in the US opening in 2024. Stellantis plans to invest €30 billion in EVs over the next 5 years.
CATL will set up a $5 billion battery recycling facility in Hubei, China to recover lithium and cobalt from spent batteries.
Toyota commits $3.4 billion investment over the next 10 years to develop automotive production in the US. Toyota hopes to increase their line of EVs to 70 models by 2025 (15 will be BEVs).
LG Chem will invest $375 million into Toray to form a joint venture in Hungary to produce battery separator films (with an annual capacity of 800 million square feet of separators) to meet EV demand in Europe.
Northvolt is investing $750 million into an R&D campus at its NorthVolt Labs site in Västerås, Sweden. The new campus will incorporate everything from battery recycling to research on next generation technologies.
Panasonic is proceeding with production of their much vaunted 4680 tabless cylindrical cells for Tesla. The 4680 cell design was prominently featured at last year’s Battery Day event and features a 50% cost reduction and 5x capacity improvement over the company’s current state-of-the-art 2170 cell design. It’s important to note that these performance gains are mostly due to geometry — the 4680 is 5.5x larger by volume than the 2170 — but a lot of clever engineering has taken place to make this size increase possible. The move represents a major commitment to Tesla for Panasonic, despite the cell producer selling off its financial stake in Tesla last year, and Tesla sourcing cells from other battery makers to keep up with demand.
Britishvolt is close to securing £200 million for its planned gigafactory in the North of England. The company is also planning a 60 GWh plant in Quebec through its Canadian subsidiary, British Volt Canada Inc. (a real thing), although there’s no word yet on whether the company has financing for this.
🔬 Research News
Checking the checklists
As journals continue to encourage best practices in battery research, ACS Energy Letters has published standard protocols of redox flow batteries as well as a checklist for battery modelling, which included examples of the checklist filled out for previous articles. These checklists have the hard task of maintaining brevity and applicability for the diverse types of battery research, which might be why a majority of new research still do not (or can not) include them.
A collaboration between A123 and USABC has led to the development of a recycling technique for cathodes that creates a unique microstructured NMC111, which allows for the recycled material to outlast commercial materials. The public is also very interested in battery recycling, as the paper also got massive attention on Reddit.
Shameless self-plug: Andrew & colleagues have recently released LiionDB, a database of battery parameters that can be used for physics-based modelling:
More great research
Achieving a coulombic efficiency of 99.9% for Li-metal + liquid electrolytes would be a game-changer. Hobold et al look at the history and opportunities in this effort.
A massive portion of battery manufacturing costs is the formation and “breaking-in” step. Weng and colleagues have found that that low-SOC resistance is the best indicator for cycle life post-formation.
🚀 Startup Tracker
Prologium (China) raises $326 million for mass production of solid-state lithium batteries.
Battery Resourcers (Massachusetts, USA) raises another $70 million for battery materials recycling.
Our Next Energy (Michigan, USA) raises $25 million Series A to scale up structural cell-to-pack battery packs and energy management systems.
ION Mobility (Singapore) completes $6.8 million seed round for electric motorbikes.
Log 9 Materials (India) raises $2 million for fast charging batteries as part of Series A round.
Amionx (California, USA) raises $6 million for thermal runaway prevention/battery safety.
LiNa Energy (UK) raises £3.5 million seed funding for cobalt-free sodium solid-state batteries.
Aceleron (UK) raises £2.5 million to develop sustainable battery packs.
Sparkz (Tennessee, USA) wins $2.6 million California Energy Commission grant for solid-state cobalt-free batteries.
🎧 On our reading/listening list
The Limiting Factor. CATL LFP vs Tesla NCA.
The Wire China. CATL’s Super-Charged Trajectory.
Aionics Fortnightly. Learn about materials informatics from experts in the field.
Toyota Research Institute [Medium]. The misguided war of the elements.
Climate Tech VC. The Climate Capital Stack: A buyer’s guide to financing your climate venture (not just with venture).
Brent Toderian. This twitter thread.
WIRED. Elon Musk Flew to Berlin to Woo the Locals. He Failed.
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