Ford started production yesterday on my F-150 Lightning pickup truck, a home-built vehicle that takes the automaker’s and the United States’ best-selling vehicle and replaces its gas-hungry engines with powerful electric motors powered by over 1,800 pounds of batteries.
A mattress-sized backpack can provide over 300 miles of range, but if Ford wants to beat the weekend warriors who tow 28-foot powerboats, it will need better batteries.
While today’s batteries can store more energy than ever – their energy density has improved by 5% per year over the past few years – this constant incremental increase will likely not be enough to make electric vehicles a no-brainer for many consumers. Today’s cages are in every way better than those made five years ago, but still leave a lot to be desired. Some breakthroughs are needed.
Electric vehicles make up a relatively small part of the overall car and truck market, but they account for nearly 80% of lithium-ion battery demand, well ahead of devices such as laptops and phones. And demand will only grow. The world is expected to need 5,500 GWh of batteries by 2030. according to Wood Mackenzie, 5 times more than today, thanks to changing consumer tastes and the impending phase-out of fossil fuel vehicles.
Over the next five years, the world of batteries will change dramatically. I looked through a long list of startups to find nine of the most interesting ones that are developing technologies to reduce the weight of batteries, speed up their charging and extend their life. Over the past year and a half, they have collectively raised $4.1 billion, some of it through specialty acquisitions, but the vast majority through late-stage venture and corporate rounds.
The battery technology that is getting the most attention lately is solid-state, and for good reason. Automakers are salivating over the idea of electric vehicles with a range of over 400 miles that can be recharged in 15 minutes, which solid-state batteries can provide.
Solid state batteries get their name from the replacement of liquid electrolytes, which move ions from one side of the battery to the other, with solid versions. Solid electrolytes have a number of advantages. First, they can prevent the growth of dendrites, the stalactite-like spikes of lithium that can form on battery electrodes. Dendrites can grow relatively easily in liquid, so battery manufacturers add an ion-permeable separator to keep the dendrites from blocking the gap between the positive and negative electrodes.
If the separator is damaged, as happened in defective Chevy Bolt batteries, then the dendrites can cause a short circuit that can start a fire.
Another thing that solid electrolytes can allow is what’s called a lithium metal battery. In a typical lithium ion battery, when lithium ions are on the anode side, they accumulate in the graphite. Graphite anodes are inexpensive and stable, but they add weight to the battery. Eliminating them would help lighter batteries store more energy, but lithium metal anodes are prone to dendrites. To prevent dendrites from growing long enough to cause a battery to short circuit, researchers are working on solid electrolytes that not only block stalactites, but don’t pose a problem with the anode’s highly reactive lithium.
Three companies are particularly promising in the area of solid state drives. One of them is Factorial, which raised $253 million, including a $200 million Series D that closed in January and was completed. led by Mercedes-Benz and Stellantis, an automaker created from the merger of the Italian-American company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the French PSA Group. The factorial, based in the Boston suburb of Woburn, Massachusetts, operated undercover until April last year.
Credit: techcrunch.com /