Welcome back to The Electric!
We seem to have been talking about the future of next-generation lithium-ion batteries forever. But now, while most of us have been preoccupied by the critical shortage of raw materials, one of those technologies—silicon anodes—has arrived for use at commercial scale in electric vehicles. As part of a two-part look at the next-gen surprise, we’ll dive this week into the factories that are promising high-concentration silicon for EVs starting next year. Next week, we’ll turn to another technology that had seemed much further away but now appears likely by the end of the decade—sodium-ion batteries.
For years, silicon has tantalized the electric vehicle industry—if researchers could solve a fatal flaw, the mineral could be used in concentrated form in a battery and deliver a big increase in driving range. But no one could overcome silicon’s vulnerability—a tendency to violently expand during the charge cycle and pulverize the battery. The industry has been limited to using just a few safe sprinkles of silicon, enough to nudge performance a bit higher.
Suddenly, though, several companies are promising to deliver commercial-grade EV battery electrodes made of highly concentrated silicon, with increasing volumes to come over the rest of the decade. In the past month, startups Group14 Technologies and Sila Nanotechnologies each announced plans for large factories to build the electrodes, signaling the surprising arrival of the next generation of commercial EV batteries. At a time when driving range is a central show-stopper for ambivalent consumers, silicon has the potential to boost a battery’s capacity by about 20%. A 250-mile EV will suddenly be able to go 300 miles on a charge, a distance considered a psychological tipping point for consumers. A 300-mile EV will be able to go 360 miles. And so on.
Rick Luebbe, CEO of Woodinville, Wash.-based Group14, said he would deliver commercial-grade silicon anode material to at least one automaker next year from newly built factories in Washington state and South Korea. The automaker, he said, intends to install the silicon in commercial EVs, ...