Lithium-ion battery powered almost all new phones, laptops and electric vehicles. But unlike processors or solar panels, which have improved exponentially, lithium-ion batteries have progressed with only incremental gains.

Over the past decade, developers of solid-state battery systems have promised much safer, lighter, and more powerful products. Those promises largely evaporated into the ether, leaving behind a vapor stream of disappointing products, failed starts and slipping release dates.

Over the past decade, developers of solid-state battery systems have promised much safer, lighter, and more powerful products.

A new wave of companies and technologies is finally coming of age and attracting the funding needed to power the biggest battery market: transportation. Electric vehicles make up about 60% of all lithium-ion batteries manufactured today, and IDTechEx predicts that solid state batteries will represent a $ 6 billion industry by 2030.

Electric vehicles have never been cooler, faster or cleaner, but they still only account for about one in 25 cars sold globally (let alone in the United States). A global survey of 10,000 drivers in 2020, Castrol delivered the same perennial complaints that electric vehicles are too expensive, too slow to charge, and have too short a range.

Castrol identified three tipping points that EVs would need to decisively move away from their internal combustion rivals: a range of at least 300 miles, recharging in just half an hour and costing no more than $ 36,000.

Theoretically, solid state batteries (SSBs) could provide all three.

There are many different types of SSBs, but not all of them have a liquid electrolyte to move electrons (electricity) between the positive (cathode) and negative (anode) electrodes of the battery. Liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries limit the materials from which the electrodes can be made, as well as the shape and size of the battery. Since liquid electrolytes are generally flammable, lithium-ion batteries are also subject to uncontrollable heating and even explosion. SSBs are much less flammable and can use metal electrodes or complex internal designs to store more energy and move it faster, resulting in higher power and faster charging.

The players

“If you run the math you can get some really amazing numbers and they’re very exciting,” Amy Prieto, Founder and CTO of a Colorado-based startup. Prieto Battery said in a recent interview. “It’s just that it’s very difficult to do that in practice. “

Prieto, who founded his company in 2009 after a career as a chemistry teacher, has seen SSB startups come and go. In 2015 alone, Dyson acquired the startup Ann Arbor Sakti3 and Bosch bought SEEO, a spin-off of Berkeley Lab, as part of separate automotive development projects. Both efforts failed, and Dyson has since abandoned some of Sakti3’s patents.

Prieto Battery, whose strategic investors include Stout Street Capital and Stanley Ventures, the venture capital arm of tool maker Stanley Black & Decker, has launched an SSB with 3D internal architecture that is expected to enable high power and good energy density. . Prieto is now seeking funding to increase the production of automotive battery packs. The first customer for these is likely to be an electric pickup manufacturer Hercules, whose first vehicle, called the Alpha, is slated for 2022. (Fisker also says he’s developing a 3D SSB for his first Ocean SUV, which is expected to arrive next year.)

Another Colorado SSB company is Solid power, which has benefited from investments from automakers such as BMV, Hyundai, Samsung and Ford, after a $ 20 million Series A in 2018. Solid Power has no ambition to manufacture batteries or even cells, according to the CEO Doug Campbell, and doing his best. use only standard lithium-ion tools and processes.

Once the company completes the development of the cells in 2023 or 2024, it will transfer full-scale production to its marketing partners.

“It just lowers the barrier to entry so existing producers can adopt it with minimal pain,” Campbell said.

QuantumScape is perhaps the most prominent SSB manufacturer on the scene today. Graduated from Stanford University ten years ago, the secret QuantumScape attracted funding from Bill Gates and $ 300 million from Volkswagen. In November, QuantumScape went public through a special purpose acquisition company at a valuation of $ 3.3 billion. Its value then increased more than 10 times after CEO Jagdeep Singh claimed to have addressed the short life and slow charging issues that plagued SSBs.

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