GM has just gone where no US automaker has gone before. Last week, the company hooked up with the EV battery developer OneD Battery Sciences to push its signature Ultium batteries to the next level. It is apparently the first collaboration of its kind between two US companies, and it should help drive down the cost of battery-powered mobility at a more rapid pace.
The Silicon EV Battery Of The Future…
Aside from being the first of its kind (GM believes that is so and we’ll take their word for it), the GM-OneD collaboration is yet another illustration of the rapidfire pace of improvement in EV battery technology.
The US Department of Energy has been hot on the trail of new materials that improve the performance of EV batteries while cutting costs. Just a few years ago, in 2017, the agency’s “Electrochemical Energy Storage Technical Team Roadmap” named-checked silicon among the paths forward.
The agency noted that most of the lifecycle issues surrounding conventional lithium-ion technology have been addressed, which is probably a reference to dendrite formation. The next step is to introduce new materials that cost less and perform better, and that is a challenge for silicon.
In theory, silicon performs far better in an EV battery anode than the standard material, which is graphite. It also offers potential benefits in the areas of cutting costs and reducing environmental impacts.
In practice, though, silicon is too fragile to take the punishment of recharging and discharging cycles.
“However, next gen (e.g., cells containing an alloy anode, usually silicon based, and or a high voltage (>4.5 volts) cathode) and beyond Li-ion (BLI, cells containing Li metal anodes) technologies still suffer major cycle and calendar life issues,” the Energy Department wrote.
…Is (Almost) Here!
Independently of that effort, OneD has broken through with a silicon EV battery formula of its own, which it claims can surpass other attempts to date.
“Silicon can store ten times the energy of graphite alone yet previous attempts to include more silicon in the anode faced challenges of silicon expansion and breakage. This limited the amount used to extremely small percentages and only modest performance improvements,” the company observes.
Adding more silicon without sacrificing performance is a complex enough task from the performance angle. It also presents a cost-effectiveness challenge on the manufacturing side. OneD appears to have solved both.
“Being able to add larger amounts of silicon — efficiently — is the essential breakthrough needed to produce competitive EVs that meet market demand for high-performance, affordable vehicles,” they explain, adding that their proprietary silicon EV battery platform comes with a built-in manufacturing and scale-up plan.
GM & OneD Aim To Fix EV Battery Supply Chain, STAT
The basis of OneD’s new energy storage technology is an anode composed of graphite infused with nanowires of silicon. They call it SINANODE, which is a crunchup of silicon, nanotechnology and anode. OneD lists the following advantages over plain graphite:
- Tripled energy capacity of the anode
- Faster charging speeds
- Greater power
- Reduced graphite
- Lower cost per kWh
- Reduced carbon footprint
That was enough to convince GM, which recently participated in a Series C round of funding for OneD. The round closed with $25 million in OneD’s pocket.
As part of the investment, the two companies inked a joint research development agreement aimed at bringing OneD’s silicon technology into GM’s Ultium energy storage family. GM believes that is the first-ever collaboration of its kind between two US companies.
“The focus of the collaboration is OneD’s SINANODE platform, which adds more silicon onto the anode battery cells by fusing silicon nanowires into EV-grade graphite,” GM explained in a press release. “Silicon can store 10 times more energy than graphite. Increasing energy density can open the door to smaller, lighter, more efficient battery packs that could achieve higher driving range at lower cost.”
The arrangement brings OneD’s 15-year, 240-patent experience in EV battery R&D to GM under a licensing business model.
“Series C funds will be used to continue SINANODE research and development, while advancing pilot production and providing OEMs and battery manufacturers a seamless integration into the manufacturing of EV batteries via licensed manufacturing partners,” GM notes.
Wait, What About The Ultium EV Battery?
The new silicon EV battery venture doesn’t mean the Ultium is going away. As GM has frequently stated, the Ultium platform was designed with further improvements in mind, and the company has been ramping up its EV battery R&D wing.
GM launched its new Wallace Battery Cell Innovation Center in Warren, Michigan, earlier this year “to help significantly ramp up development and production of next-generation Ultium batteries, along with production methods that can quickly be deployed at battery cell manufacturing plants.”
GM also notes that it is already scaling up Ultium production. The company currently has one Ultium factory up and running in Ohio, two under construction, and one other in the planning stage.
For the record, the US energy storage R&D specialist Volta Energy Technologies also participated in the Series C round with GM.
Drive That EV While You Still Can
Considering the state of world affairs, no discussion of personal mobility would be complete without a mention of the movement to create a new, secondary class of citizenship in the US that encumbers the right to travel freely.
Untreated medical emergencies, emotional trauma and other impacts are piling up as new state-based abortion bans sweep across the country, forcing women, girls and other pregnancy-capable people to flee out of state for treatment. Meanwhile, interstate travel for women, girls and other pregnancy-capable people is also under threat, and Republican members of Congress have already set the wheels in motion for a national ban.
Against that backdrop, restricting the right of any pregnancy-capable person to drive a car, whether electric or otherwise, is not all that far off in the future.
Drive, while you can.
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Photo (screenshot): Silicon-infused graphite for new EV battery, courtesy of OneD Battery Sciences.
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