Associated PressMay 6, 2021 12:04:33 PM IST
Ford has increased its stake in the manufacturer of solid batteries – a company that its chief and product manager Hau Thai-Tang says will strengthen the company’s efforts to increase the range of new electric cars and reduce costs. Ford announced this week with BMW that it will invest $ 130 million in a financing round for Solid Power, a Denver-based company that develops solid-state solid sulfide battery technologies. Thai-Tang says the technology should give Ford the flexibility to either shrink to battery sizes to make it cheaper to manufacture for some vehicles, or keep the same size battery and achieve greater distance on other models.
Solid batteries with a solid ion conductive material instead of the liquid electrolyte in most lithium ion batteries can store more energy. This expands the range of vehicles from batteries of the same size or allows for smaller batteries, which are usually lighter and have a lower risk of fire.
At the same time, it is more difficult to use power from semiconductor batteries than lithium-ion batteries, said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst at Guidehouse Research. But the technology has such a promise, he said, that any company that improves it first can lead to a competitive advantage.
Associated Press recently spoke with Thai-Tang about new chemistry and what it could mean for accelerating the introduction of electric vehicles. The interview was modified for clarity and length.
Q: Why are solid state batteries so important compared to lithium ion batteries used in electric vehicles today?
A: Because the promise is a much higher energy density. For customers, this basically means they can drive farther with a larger range. So, when you get better energy and power density, the cells will shrink. This allows vehicles to become lighter in the same area as well as more space for people and their objects instead of batteries. And then of course the cost. Reducing the price per kilowatt hour will speed up the introduction of battery-powered electric vehicles.
Q. What is the advantage over lithium ion batteries now?
A: The big thing is moving from a liquid electrolyte to a solid electrolyte; it gives you better conductivity. It enables strength and energy. The challenge has always been, can you really expand where the cell shape is big enough for car use? Can you then really manufacture it on a scale to achieve cost targets?
Q: There has been a lot of talk about the possible lack of lithium, copper, nickel and other precious metals. Does solid-state use less of them?
A: It depends on the chemistry. For most companies, the cathode is about the same as in lithium ion. It really doesn’t change. It is really an anode and an electrolyte. Because you achieve higher conductivity and higher energy density, you would spend less on the same power, range, and energy. It itself helps, even if it’s the same chemistry. But depending on which company you partner with, they would have different chemistry, which reduces dependence on copper and cobalt, for example.
Q: How far is Solid Power in this process?
A: We think Solid Power is among the leaders because they have the ability to scale to a multilayer cell, up to 20 amp-hours. This we can really use in the car. Starting next year, they will aim to give us and another investor, BMW, a 100 amp-hour battery. It’s a size we can really use in the automotive industry. Another big thing is that their chemistry can be built in the same manufacturing process in which we invest in building lithium-ion batteries. So this allows us to get into new technology without having to re-invest in all those capital devices.
Q: What time period do you see from the transition to the solid state?
A: We think it is realistic to target by the end of this decade if we continue to make progress.
Q: How far could a vehicle go if you complete a fixed space?
A: You can either maintain your current range and use fewer batteries, or you can give customers an even greater range for that battery size in the physical package. Energy density improves by about 25-30 percent. So we can literally give everything to a larger area. Or we can say that 300 miles is optimal and we would just reduce the number of batteries and lower the cost. And anywhere between these two accounts.
Q: So in your current Mustang Mach-E SUV package, could you cover about 400 miles?
A: Yes, you can get another 25-30 percent.
Q: Does this announcement mean that electric vehicles are becoming much wider?
A: Ford can lead the e-revolution and accelerate the transition from internal combustion engines to reduce costs and improve our customers ’range, making it safer. I think charging for the infrastructure is probably another thing that would be the key to faster deployment.
Q: Do you need fixed space to achieve cost parity with internal combustion engines?
A: We see more opportunities to reduce costs to less than $ 100 per kilowatt with further advances in lithium-ion technology. To take the next extra step in terms of cost, I think we need to go to a fixed state.
Q: How much do you save on current battery chemistry costs if this happens?
A: If you achieve a 25-30% improvement in energy density and are able to build it in the same process, you can expect to see this level of cost improvement compared to today’s technology.