A top exec at the battery startup that just landed a $130 million funding round led by Ford and VW explains how solid state tech can unseat lithium-ion

  • In a battery market dominated by lithium-ion, solid-state batteries are posing a challenge.
  • Solid-state batteries could offer energy and safety upgrades, but are difficult to bring to production.
  • Solid Power, a startup working on the tech, just landed a major investment from Ford and BMW.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

As automakers prepare to release scores of new electric car models in the next few years, battery companies and startups are working to develop bigger, longer-lasting, and more affordable battery packs to keep drivers happy and corporations well-compensated. 

Along with the major battery players like LG Chem and Panasonic, some startups are answering the call by shifting away from the conventional lithium-ion batteries that dominate the market, and toward a novel solution that could upend how power moves from the plug to the pavement. 

Among them is Solid Power, which on Monday announced a $130 million Series B investment round, led by Ford, BMW, and Volta Energy Technologies. The deal expands the joint development agreements each automaker had with the startup; Ford and BMW will also receive seats on the startup’s board. 

The two key advantages that solid-state batteries have over the classic lithium-ion alternative are increased energy density and safety, Dean Frankel, supply chain development at Solid Power, told Insider in a February interview. 

“We call it the parallel pursuit of both energy density and safety improvements,” he said.

In the second quarter of 2020, Solid Power started selling solid-state battery cells that retain 15% to 20% more power than the lithium-ion batteries currently being used in EVs. The energy retention is largely thanks to the anode, or positively-charged electrode, it uses. Replacing the more commonly used graphite anode with lithium metal increases the storage capacity tenfold, Frankel said. 

Meanwhile, competition is afoot, as other solid-state pioneers like QuantumScape and Solid Energy Systems push their own versions of the tech.

“You will see the term solid-state thrown out a lot. And a lot of the time when you look at these technologies at a more granular level, they still have liquid in them. And in order to differentiate Solid Power from those other companies,” Frankel said. “We have branded ourselves as all solid-state, because there is no liquid at all in the battery.”

Solid Power is also distinct in the way it produces its batteries. To be able to repurpose existing lithium-ion production facilities, Solid Power manufactures its solid-state batteries consistently with how lithium-ion batteries are produced, only making “modest retrofits” to them, said Frankel. 

The idea here is to make it as easy as possible for automakers that use conventional batteries now to make the switch to solid-state sometime in the future — and to become major customers for a startup promising the next big thing.

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