The mobility rEVolution: New lithium-ion battery material for faster charging times


One of the biggest bottlenecks to charging in today’s lithium-ion batteries is the anode. The most common anode is made of graphite, which is very energy dense, but cannot be charged too quickly due to the risk of fire and explosions from a process known as lithium metal plating. Against the backdrop of the growing demand for battery to have high energy and faster charging times, researchers at the University of California San Diego and Boise State University have developed a new approach to making novel lithium-ion battery materials. They transformed a non-crystalline (amorphous) material into a crystalline Nb2O5 anode material with exceptional battery properties – by cycling it with lithium. Intercalation metal oxides, like the rock salt Nb2O5 material discovered by the team, are promising anode alternatives due to the reduced risk of lithium plating at low voltages. “If you want to charge your EV for 15 minutes and then get on the road for the next 200 or 300 miles, you need new battery electrodes that can be charged at a very fast rate without much loss in performance,” says Pete Barnes, the lead author of the study published in Nature Materials. The new electrode can achieve high lithium storage of 269 mAh/g at a charging rate of 20 mA/g, and more importantly, continues to retain a high capacity of 191 mAh/g at a high charging rate of 1 A/g. “The trick is to start from a higher energy phase, such as an amorphous material. Just cycling the material with lithium allows us to create new crystalline arrangements that exhibit improved properties beyond those made via traditional means such as solid-state reactions,” says Hui (Claire) Xiong, a professor of materials science and engineering at Boise State University.

Speaking of next-generation battery materials, U.S.-based start-up Sila, is building a large-scale factory in Washington State to make advanced anodes that use silicon instead of graphite, which the company says will make EV battery packs more energy-efficient and, eventually, cheaper. The company, cofounded by one of Tesla’s earliest engineers and backed by Mercedes-Benz, is making an initial investment to deliver annual silicon-based anode production sufficient to power 10 GWh of cells when used as a full graphite replacement, or up to 50 GWh of cells when used as a partial replacement. This is enough material to power batteries in up to 100,000-500,000 EVs and 500 million mobile phones annually. Production lines at the facility will start-up in the second half of 2024, with full start of production underway in the first half of 2025. Power for the facility will be zero-carbon, supplied by Washington’s hydroelectric grid. The company told Forbes that Daimler and BMW will be the first users of its materials in high-end electric models. “First and foremost, we’re pushing for higher energy density,” CEO Gene Berdichevsky said, estimating that Sila’s anodes provide up to a 20% improvement in energy efficiency to the best current lithium-ion battery packs. They can also enable faster charging or hold down pack costs by reducing the number of cells needed to go the same distance. “If you’ve got a vehicle that has 1,000 cells in it, and it gives you the range you want when each battery stores 20% more energy you can go from 1,000 cells to 800 cells. Now the vehicle is lighter and it's cheaper to make.”

Meanwhile, German sports car manufacturer Porsche is acquiring shares in the U.S.-based company Group14 Technologies, a producer of advanced silicon-carbon technology for lithium-ion batteries. As the lead investor, Porsche is raising $100 million and leading a Series C funding round in which several companies are investing a total of $400 million, which Group14 Technologies is planning to use to accelerate its worldwide production silicon anode material for lithium-ion batteries. According to Porsche, Group14 will also supply the Cellforce Group from Tübingen, in which Porsche holds a majority stake. Cellforce is currently building its battery factory near Stuttgart with production scheduled to start in 2024. The company intends to produce 100 MWh of high-performance battery cells per year there – primarily for Porsche’s models with high-performance drivetrains. “The anode material from Group14 has gamechanger potential on the way to shorter charging times,” says Markus Gräf, Managing Director of the Cellforce Group. With the new silicon anode, Cellforce aims to secure high energy density and lower internal resistance. This allows it to absorb more during energy recuperation while at the same time offering improved performance for fast charging. Another special feature of the Cellforce battery cell is the fact that it is said to be more resistant to high temperatures, the company says.

Like many other EV makers, U.S.-based Lucid has announced price hikes on the back of supply chain issues. The EV manufacturer reported nearly $58 million in revenue in its first quarter earnings and announced substantial price increases to its luxury Air sedan for any new reservations beginning June 1. The EV startup said it is experiencing strong demand with more than 30,000 customer reservations as of today, which represents potential sales of $2.9 billion. “Similar to many companies in our industry, we continue to face global supply chain and logistics challenges, including Covid-related factory shutdowns in China. We are working closely with our suppliers to mitigate the impact of disruptions,” Sherry House, Lucid’s CFO, said in a statement. “While any extended disruptions could result in an impact to our production forecast, today we are reiterating our 12,000-14,000-vehicle production forecast for 2022 based on the information we have at this point combined with our mitigation plans.” The Air Grand Touring will increase about $15,000 to a cost of $154,000; the Air Touring will cost $12,400 more at $107,400; and the Air Pure will go up $10,000, to $87,400. The Lucid Air Grand Touring Performance model, the price of which was announced two weeks ago, will remain the same at $179,000, the company said

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As persistent bottlenecks in supply continue to bite, Volkswagen is “basically sold out” of electric vehicles for this year in Europe and the US, according to Group CEO Herbert Diess. In the first quarter, Germany’s biggest car manufacturer delivered over 99,000 BEVs and demand is ramping up, with over 30,000 vehicle orders placed in western Europe alone. VW aims for a total of around 700,000 EV sales for 2022. “We have very high order books and […] order intake on electric vehicles,” Diess added. “That accounts for all of our models from ID.3, ID.4, the Audi models — [all] are extremely well received in the markets, Škoda models are also very well received in Europe.” In China, however, due to Covid-related restrictions, demand for EVs has been weakened. But VW remains confident that its target of 140,000 EVs this year is possible. Nonetheless, the carmaker warned about “an ongoing risk” that the war, and lockdowns in China could have a “negative impact on business activities in the current year.”

Meanwhile, in Germany, Tesla is reportedly looking to massively expand its manufacturing capacity nearby Berlin. According to local media reports from RBB (Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg), the EV maker wants to buy about 100 hectares of land adjacent to the current site which spread across 300 hectares. While there is a lot of free space on its existing land, local media suggests that Tesla wants to keep that land free for future expansions of the car factory. The additional area is likely to be used for storage facilities. As with the initial land purchase, there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome, both legislative and environmental.  In terms of possible purchase price, RBB says Tesla will have to pay around €13 million for the additional area if the state authorities demand the same price as for the original 300 hectares.

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