Solid Power, a solid-state battery company, today unveiled a pilot production line for EV-sized cells that will be sent to automotive partners for testing. The move represents another step in the steady march toward solid-state lithium-ion batteries, which promise to bring unprecedented range and safety to electric vehicles.
“We have validated that we can use industry standard processes on this very flexible, learning and work-intensive pre-pilot [production line]said CEO Doug Campbell. “Now we move on to the next stage of production.”
“To the best of my knowledge – because I don’t have any inside baseball information on what’s going on in Korea or Japan – but to my knowledge it would be one of the biggest production facilities in the game. “industry dedicated to all-solid-state batteries. So that’s pretty darn cool,” he added.The advent of the line could mark a turning point for the US battery industry.
The company went public via SPAC in December after raising several rounds. Solid Power has the backing of a long list of industry insiders, including automakers Ford, BMW and Hyundai; battery manufacturer A123 Systems; and the venture capital arms of Samsung, Equinor and Koch Industries.
Solid Power has been working on a pre-pilot line since 2019. This more flexible line was intended to use industry-standard production techniques to produce increasingly larger battery cells, starting at 2 Ah (ampere hour) and up to 20 Ah. While these are good specs for early test cells, they’re not big enough for today’s EVs. The new line will focus on cells in the 60 to 100 Ah range, which is in line with current models.
The startup is focused on producing solid-state electrolytes, the material that helps transport electrons between two electrodes. Solid state electrolytes have an advantage over existing liquid electrolytes because they help prevent spiky dendrites from growing on the anode. If these anodes become too long, they may close the gap between the electrodes and cause a short circuit which could result in a fire. This, along with other properties of solid-state batteries, allows cells to store more energy and recharge faster.
Most liquid electrolytes are made from volatile substances, which increase the risk of fire. As a general rule, solid state electrolytes are not flammable.
The first cells will be tested in-house – “there’s a classic saying in engineering, ‘you never do your first test in front of your customer,'” Campbell said – with the aim of shipping A-samples to automotive partners, who currently include BMW and Ford, by the end of the year.
Once that happens, Solid Power will continue to use the pilot line to refine its production techniques. If all goes according to plan, the company will eventually produce B-samples in the first half of 2024, a sort of beta product that will pave the way for an almost production-ready C-sample. “I don’t even envision us mothballing it then,” Campbell said. “It will continue to be a workhorse for next-generation airframe designs.”
Campbell said that “assuming we execute and don’t hit brick walls,” commercial-scale cell production could begin as early as 2026, which means Solid Power designs could end up in an electric vehicle in 2027.
This all lines up with what Solid Power has been saying for years. “We pretty much stayed on our roadmap,” Campbell said. Solid-state batteries, which still appear to be only a few years away, will likely be ready to disrupt the electric vehicle market before the end of the decade.