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Game-Changing Battery Tech Could Transform EV Industry

Battery Tech

The EV battery race intensified this week with the announcement that a startup financially supported by the U.S. Department of Energy had released a lithium ion battery that stores more energy than the 250 Wh EV industry benchmark.

The company, 24M, said its semi-solid state nickel-manganese-cobalt battery had achieved an energy density of 280 Wh and that its approach to battery building would allow it to hit a target of 350 Wh by the end of the year. The target was set by the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium that, together with the Department of Energy, provided 24M with US$7 million in funding back in 2016.

The company said it had already delivered 280 Wh batteries to business partners but did not disclose the names of the partners or the size of the deliveries. However, it did say it had managed to achieve the higher energy density levels at a lower cost, which is a major hurdle on the path to mass adoption of EVs.

It looks like semi-solid and solid state batteries will be an important battlefield in EV technology as they allow for greater energy densities than typical lithium ion cells. Last year we heard news of silicon being experimented with in batteries to improve their energy density as well as replacing the liquid electrolyte with a polymer, which in addition to improving the energy density of the battery reduces its flammability—another problem with the dominant technology.

Lithium ion is still the dominant battery chemistry on the market, but challengers abound. While many of them will only remain a success in the lab but impossible to scale and commercialize, some will sooner or later emerge as serious competitors given the amount of work that is going into new battery research.

There is even emerging flow battery technology that could make car batteries refillable instead of rechargeable, solving the long-charging-times problem in a very elegant way. One company actually claims to have developed a liquid alternative to lithium ion batteries that contains 60 percent water and 40 percent chemicals and works by producing hydrogen through hydrolysis and generating electricity from it in a hydrogen fuel cell.

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While this may sound quite complex, which usually means too expensive, the company that has developed it, Australian-Israeli Electriq-Global, says the fuel is actually cheaper than lithium ion batteries and substantially, at that: at half the price of batteries, the company says, its fuel has twice the range.

The race for the energy storage technology of the future is on and it’s pretty intensive. Lithium ion proponents are not sitting idly, either. None other than Tesla earlier this year announced plans to buy an energy storage company, Maxwell Technologies, for US$218 million in an all-stock deal to improve its battery technology.

The deal is not final as Maxwell shareholders are seeking to block it but it is indicative of the stakes: whoever comes up with scalable, cheap, and reliable battery technology will dominate the market in a future when EVs are mainstream, whatever the chances of that happening in our lifetimes are.

By Irina Slav of Oilprice.com

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