September News Roundup

Booming EV production + new battery factories = not enough lithium

💻 Announcement

Some exciting news this month, our website is live:

After 18 months of publishing content on Substack, we're happy to share a website where you can find all our old articles, features with founders and battery experts, educational resources crowdsourced from our readers, and a home for our paying subscribers, all in one spot.

All feedback is very welcome. Now, on to our regular roundup below...

🛠️ Industry News

OEM Overload

The OEMs are at it again. Below is a non-exhaustive list of the major manufacturing developments from this past month:

Lithium prices go boom

Prices for lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide — essential precursor materials for lithium-ion battery cathodes — have soared by over 200% this year, according to a report from the finance division of China’s CCTV network [the video isn’t in English, but an easy-to-Google-Translate written version can be found here].

The surge in lithium prices comes amid a boom in EV production in China and has been made worse by stalled lithium mine development due to the pandemic. While we’ve seen price increases for other battery components before (and in fact, we’ve predicted them), lithium is notable in that it can’t be substituted with a lower cost material (it’s where the lithium in lithium-ion comes from, after all). Expect prices to get worse.

Redwood pivots to making everything

Redwood Materials, the battery recycling outfit led by industry darling JB Straubel, has revealed what they plan on doing with all that money they raised back in July: a little bit of everything. In an interview with Bloomberg, Straubel said the company’s new focus is to produce copper foil and cathode materials in order to move a “huge chunk” of battery material manufacturing from Asia to North America.

The numbers involved are eye-popping. To achieve his chunk-moving goals, Straubel plans to build a billion-dollar, million-square-foot factory that will produce 100 GWh worth of materials annually by 2025 (ramping up to 500 GWh annually by 2030).

What this means for Redwood’s recycling business isn’t clear. The obvious synergies between battery recycling and battery production are something Straubel wants to emphasize, but barring verifiable data, we can’t be certain recycled materials will make it into the supply chain. Let’s hope that industry-wide battery recycling standards take off.

Sila debuts commercial smartwatch battery

In more billion-dollar-quasi-startup news, Sila Nanotechnologies (led by ex-Tesla engineer Gene Berdichevsky) has announced that their silicon-based anode technology can be found in the delightfully named Whoop 4.0 fitness tracker smartwatch.

Sila claims that the addition of silicon offers a 17% improvement in overall energy density compared to graphite-based batteries. These density gains have been used to make Whoop’s watch smaller while retaining the same capacity as previous Whoop models (Whoopsies??).

While this may seem like a relatively small step for a company funded by Daimler that’s eyeing the EV market, we at Intercalation Station welcome incremental proofs-of-concept in the battery world (here’s looking at you, Murata).

NIO develops NMC/LFP hybrid-cell battery pack

After CATL announced a teaser over the summer of their hybrid cells combining Na-ion with Li-ion, this month we saw another kind of hybrid emerge: NIO has launched a 75 kWh hybrid-cell battery pack consisting of both NMC and LFP cells. While the ratio between the two is undisclosed, InsideEVs guessed it may be 1:1 or 2:1 for NMC/LFP, with around 142 Wh/kg. The pack uses cell-to-pack design with no modules and simplified manufacturing and assembly, and will be sold in November at the same price point as the previous 70 kWh NMC option.

“Impressive to see hybrid systems coming out, in the past it’s been fairly difficult to balance the performance of cells with different operating voltages.” — James Frith on Twitter.

🔬 Research News

📅 Events

We're excited to join and support as a partner in TDK Ventures’ inaugural Energy Week 2021, a five-day event that starting Monday, October 18th. Each day will cover a different topic, and over 30 of the top leaders in the battery and energy field — from academia, industry, startups, and VCs — will share their insights into how the industry is changing and what the future holds.

It's FREE to attend and you can register here.

Other events:

  • The Electrochemical Science and Engineering Group at Imperial College is hosting their 2021 Showcase on October 6th [tickets]

  • Li-Cycle’s Battery Recycling Day is also being held on October 6th [tickets]

🚀 Startup Tracker

🎧 On our reading/listening list

  1. NAATBatt. Lithium-Ion Battery Supply Chain Database.

  2. Cipher. A new climate-focused newsletter by Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

  3. IEA. The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions.

  4. Intercalation’s Silicon Series. Now on Part 3, we explore Nanograf, Nexeon, and OneD (also check out Part 1 and Part 2).

  5. Nature Energy. Layered Li-Ni-Mn-Co oxide cathodes (a history of NMC as told by its principal inventors, and a continuation of Nature Energy’s “Tales of Invention” series).

  6. The Outlaw Ocean Project. Critics Question the Climate Crisis Benefits of Deep Seabed Mining.

  7. Amnesty International. The EU Battery Regulation Due Diligence Rules: Ensuring that Human Rights and the Environment are not Casualties of the Energy Transition.

  8. Green Rocks. How much of your EV battery can *actually* be recycled?

🔊 One last announcement

We’re excited to announce that Pooja Vadhva has joined the Intercalation team! We’ve profiled Pooja before in a community feature (which you should definitely check it out if you haven’t already). Welcome to the team!

Pooja is a PhD student at the University College London, researching solid-state batteries for electric vehicle purposes. Her work focuses on fabricating solid electrolytes, cell testing and failure characterisation using a variety of experimental and electrochemical modelling methods. Prior to her PhD, she interned at Jaguar Land Rover modelling cell behaviour and has also worked with an electric scooter company in Bali, SKUTE, designing battery packs. Her interests lie in industry developments, helping to scale next generation battery technologies from laboratory stages to commercialization. In her spare time, she likes to practise taekwondo as she is a former Great Britain athlete, Double British Champion and International Medallist.

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