Print 24 comment(s) - last by maugrimtr.. on Nov 25 at 11:22 AM

  (Source: MIT)
Most industry batteries use graphite electrodes

Call it crazy, call it ambitious, but one thing's for sure -- startup SolidEnergy Systems Corp. is willing to think outside of the box.
I. A Struggling Technology
Today, lithium ion batteries offer the best combination of energy versus price of any commercially available battery chemistry.  As a result, they have dominated the electronics and electric vehicle markets.  But as recent damage-induced fires with the Tesla Motors Inc.'s (TSLA) Model S roadster illustrate, lithium ion cells still have a major Achilles heel -- they're fire-prone given the flammability of lithium exposed to open air and a heat source.
Efforts to replace the widely used liquid electrolyte graphite electrode lithium ion battery cells have mostly focused on either fundamentally changing the lithium material -- replacing it with a solid lithium rich polymer -- or moving away from lithium altogether.  Both approaches have major drawbacks.
SolidEnergy -- on the surface -- appears to be taking the former route, but upon closer examination its thin-film based technology is significantly different from early solid lithium-polymer battery attempts.  Notably, SolidEnergy is using a liquid electrolyte with a high-energy lithium metal electrode -- a combination that makes lithium ion batteries more efficient, but also more flammable.  Defying expectations, SolidEnergy is boldly claiming that its brand of lithium metal electrodes is actually less flammable, thanks to its unique electrode formulation.

lithium polymer
A SolidEnergy cell is seen on the left next to its high energy lithium electrode on the right.
[Image Source: MIT Tech. Review/SolidEnergy]

There are currently only a handful of lithium polymer batteries on the market -- all of which replace liquid electrolytes with a brick of solid lithium polymer.  This approach has traditionally been thought to be necessary to prevent the volatile lithium metal electrode from catching fire.  However, these solid electrolyte polymers conduct electrons more poorly than liquid alternatives, cutting the gains of switching to the higher-energy electrode.  Further, their solid state requires them to be heated before use -- which requires special electronics that bump the cost.  At the end of the day customers are left with a battery that's only marginally more efficient and much more costly.
II. An Unusual Solution
SolidEnergy is looking to shift this equation with a new high-energy electrode design.  In order to protect the flammable electrode, SolidEnergy coats it with a thin film of solid polymer similar to the kinds used in bulk in current lithium-polymer cells.
From there SolidEnergy's design diverges more sharply from past designs, using a special liquid electrolyte.  SolidEnergy uses an ionic liquid formulation, which unlike the electrolytes in traditional cells, is not very flammable.  Better still it doesn't need to be heated (like traditional liquid electrolytes) and is more efficient (like traditional liquid electrolytes), yet fights short circuits (preventing flammability like current solid electrolytes).
In short SolidEnergy's high-energy electrode, two-part (thin-film polymer, ionic liquid) electrolyte design claims to offer the best of both major classes of lithium ion batteries (solid and liquid electrolyte).

thin film polymer
By using ionic liquids and thin films -- two cutting edge materials technologies, SolidEnergy reduces the limitations of lithium-polymer cells. [Image Source: MIT]

SolidEnergy claims its prototype cells store 30 percent more energy per volume than comparable traditional lithium ion batteries, which use graphite electrodes.  What's more, the company says it expects to be able to boost energy gains to 40 percent (over traditional cells) by the time the product hits the market.
What's more SolidEnergy claims that its batteries cost only $130 per kilowatt-hour.  While official numbers on current costs are hard to come by, they're estimated to be between $250 and $500 USD per kWh, so this represents a clear and dramatic step up, if accurate, at least cutting costs in half.
These "pie-in-the-sky" sort of numbers have helped SolidEnergy suck up $4.5M USD in venture capital.  They've also drawn skepticism.

SolidEnergy has scored funding from government high-tech grants and from interested venture capitalists, but its bold performance claims have also been met with skepticism.

Jeff Dahn, professor of physics and chemistry at Dalhousie University and topic expert on battery design, told The MIT Technology Review that there's no way to independently verify SolidEnergy's claims as it's not released any precise details about its process, its cell chemistries, or its performance numbers -- other than the general claims listed above.  It's also not released commercial cells that could be broken down and tested to independently verify claim.  All of that is not unusual considering that SolidEnergy is private and a startup -- but given how unusual the company's performance claims are, it's hard not to be a bit skeptical.
III. Moving Towards the Market
But SolidEnergy founder Qichao Hu -- listed as Chief Executive Officer and President on the company homepage, and referred to as Chief Technology Officer by the MIT Tech. Review -- says his company is working to rapidly scale the technology for commercial production of cells for personal electronics.  Versus holding out to try to produce bulkier, more complex, more costly automotive battery packs, this move that could put the potentially game-changing product on the market faster and quiet the skeptics.
Mr. Hu founded the Waltham, Mass. startup shortly after receiving his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2012.

Qichao Hu
After turning heads with his MIT research, Qichao Hu rolled out his own startup -- now he believes his firm is on the verge of a revolution in mobile battery tech.

SolidEnergy has selected a valuable, if troubled partner -- A123 Systems' cooperative arm, A123 Venture Technologies.  You may recall that A123 Systems fell into a controversial bankruptcy, depsite having received approximately $129M USD from a $249M USD grant from U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama's U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

A minor portion of A123's assets -- including the Michigan battery faciltiies for automotive clients -- were initally reported to be sold for $125M USD to Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI) a veteran parts firm.  But in the aftermath of bidding, the automotive business along with other assets -- approximately 80 percent of A123's total bankruptcy valuation -- was purchased by China's Wanxiang Group Corp., a privately held Chinese conglomerate, for $256.6M USD this January.

SolidEnergy has partnered with the Chinese-owned A123Systems to commercialize the technology, which will first target the mobile device market. [Image Source: Bloomberg]

Under Wanxiang's ownership, the resulting battery firm has focused on building partnerships with startup technology firms, renting out its high-tech battery research lab space near Boston, Massachusetts.  Now that SolidEnergy has produced working prototypes, it has signed a contract with A123Systems, LLC -- the Wanxiang subsidiary -- to scale the technology up to production.

If the partnership produces the ambitious results Mr. Qichao is promising, it could mean hours of extra battery life for laptops and smartphones, and potentially $50 USD or more off their wholesale prices, from a bill of materials standpoint.

Editor's Note:
We had inititally erroneously reported that Johnson Controls acquired A123 Systems' automotive assets.  This was based on statements in an AP report.  Since that report Johnson Control gave up on that bid and Wanxiang's purchase included the auto assets.  The error has been corrected.

Sources: MIT Technology Review, SolidEnergy Systems

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

About the battery technology
By CBRworm on 11/22/2013 11:55:21 AM , Rating: 2
So, no one has any comments on the battery technology?

Sounds interesting to me. Having spent many years in an industry that is almost 100% reliant on Lithium Ion technology, and having seen my share of big fires caused by little (18650) cells - even if the claims seem outlandish, it would be great if they can accomplish this.

RE: About the battery technology
By kickoff on 11/22/2013 3:43:15 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, I'm all for it and a few years ago, I think there would have been great response from the hopeful supporters and lots of vitriol from the haters.

But we've seen SO many announcements of this, that and the other...I think we're all to the point of: Just actually build "it" and we'll all comment then.

RE: About the battery technology
By JasonMick on 11/22/2013 3:48:55 PM , Rating: 2
I hear ya, but this approach sounds promising. From my materials knowledge (which is somewhat limited... entry graduate school level-ish), I would think the main limitation will be getting consistent deposition of the polymer on the electrodes.

Thin films of arbitrary composition aren't necessarily easy to create. Some materials lend themselves well to thin films, others do not. In this case deposition quality will control not only performance, but also safety.

I imagine that's why it's taking some time to bring this to market.

But it seems a promising approach and Qinghao certainly has the credentials in terms of his peer-reviewed research record. Kudos to him for making it this far, at least/

RE: About the battery technology
By maugrimtr on 11/25/2013 11:22:16 AM , Rating: 2
If this works, it will be a boon to both the users of batteries and A123 (which is Chinese owned and could make a small fortune if this works out). The industry at large will be contemptibly hostile - bear in mind that this threatens to make a lot of their products and research redundant. That's where the furor over not releasing evidence comes from.

A private company is NOT obliged to release research to the public - they deserve time to commercialize and patent the technology. Patents, for a physical discovery, I have no problem with. You can imagine what would happen if they released samples now - the established companies would immediately start reverse engineering it, throwing millions at it, and then paying lawyers to dig up patents and figure out workarounds so they can release similar products before the inventor ever sees a cent of profit.

Not the cheapest
By MichaelR on 11/21/2013 9:34:33 PM , Rating: 4
Today, lithium ion batteries offer the best combination of energy versus price of any commercially available battery chemistry.

Lead acid is far less expensive than Lithium for a given amount of energy.

Now if you change the word 'price' to 'weight', you might be on to something there.

Sounds like a dream!
By CaedenV on 11/22/2013 12:16:10 PM , Rating: 3
a 30% increase in energy density, plus a 50% price cut? Sounds way too good to be true, but if it works then they will need to scale up production very quickly.

The idea of cheaper or longer lasting cell phones and portable electronics is nice (and I'll gladly take it), but the real hope is for electric cars.

If electric cars were to drop ~20% in price (before rebates), and get that battery range up closer to 100 miles then I would be sold. It would bring the entry price down to a point where I could afford it, and having a range that would last me at least 2 days per charge (and typically 3) would make me a lot more comfortable. Hopefully this all comes true in the next 2-3 years when I will be ready to purchase another vehicle.

Your Turn!
By tanjali on 11/21/2013 6:37:17 PM , Rating: 2
Oil companies should stop this travesty of battery tech improvements and buy them out.

By clarisayjn053 on 11/23/2013 4:48:25 PM , Rating: 2
if you need a job try this site JOBS61 (dot)COM. Dan does it at home and makes $17.92 hourly just sitting and typing stuff all day...No experience needed too

By Myopic on 11/21/13, Rating: -1
RE: Really?
By flyingpants1 on 11/22/2013 12:16:45 AM , Rating: 2
Welcome to DT.

RE: Really?
By AliShawkat on 11/22/13, Rating: -1
RE: Really?
By Samus on 11/22/2013 2:01:30 AM , Rating: 2
What do you expect it's a Jason Mick article. If he had any credible journalistic skills (God knows where the hell he went to school for it) he wouldn't be updating a technology blog for a living. But he can certainly always fall back on Fox News.

RE: Really?
By FITCamaro on 11/22/2013 8:41:23 AM , Rating: 2
I'd call Jason fairly liberal. He's hardly conservative. Just because he doesn't suck off CNN's teat doesn't make him a shill for Fox.

RE: Really?
By JasonMick on 11/22/2013 10:26:13 AM , Rating: 2
I'd call Jason fairly liberal. He's hardly conservative. Just because he doesn't suck off CNN's teat doesn't make him a shill for Fox.
Thanks Fit.

I think readers sometimes misunderstand my political views, despite me regularly stating them explicitly in discussion in the comments section. I'm sort of like Gary Johnson -- a liberal on social issues, a conservative on financial issues. Thus I relate most closely to the libertarian party, but I would consider voting for a candidate of any party whose track record shows he protects American freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

As for the whole name controversy here, c'mon people it's his name. If you have a problem with it you're just showing you're intolerant to people of other religions.

As Fit said, it is HIS NAME... and while I don't agree with a lot of the president's policies, I think the name is actually a nice thing as it honors his Kenyan paternal grandfather.

Yes, his grandfather was a Muslim (hence the "Hussein")... but who cares? If you have a problem with the fact that our President has a Muslim middle name, by all means go back to living in your fantasy world.

As for me, I don't care what religion elected officials (or their ancestors) are(/were) as long as they're not trying to push that religion on me.

I focus on policies not personal affairs.

RE: Really?
By lelias2k on 11/22/13, Rating: -1
RE: Really?
By JasonMick on 11/22/2013 1:20:27 PM , Rating: 2
And you can argue all you want, but you're making yourself appear like an intolerant bigot for getting all upset and offended at the sight of a Muslim name.

Criticize the man ... or praise him if you think he's doing a great job... based on his policies not his name.

Therefore you are entirely off base. Grow up.

RE: Really?
By MrBlastman on 11/22/2013 3:53:08 PM , Rating: 2
Don't try and convince the crazies, Jason. ;)

If you mention his name... it must be racism!

RE: Really?
By lelias2k on 11/23/13, Rating: -1
RE: Really?
By grant3 on 11/22/13, Rating: 0
RE: Really?
By JasonMick on 11/22/2013 3:30:53 PM , Rating: 2
Oh come on at least try a little harder if you're going to try to troll me...

First I didn't say I was honoring his father. I said HIS PARENTS were... I said that I felt it was a nice gesture. I'm not trying to honor or dishonor his grandfather... I'm simply noting the man's name, which you for some bizarre reason perceive as a grave offense.

Second off your suggest about me never using middle names is a flat out lie.

"The agency would later cross paths with the tech luminary in 1991, when he interviewed for a post on the president's Export Council, during the presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush. "

"Correct. The current gun control on bases was instituted by President George Herbert Walker Bush in Feb. 1992, and only strengthened on ARMY bases (not NAVY ones) by Bill Clinton in 1993."

So yep, we've established that you simply make up false "facts" in order to further your own narrow and scared viewpoint.

Lastly, (and most importantly) the fact that you're so shocked and offended by a Muslim name or feel a need to deny the very small part of President Obama's Muslim heritage (the majority of his relatives are Christian) makes you appear either insecure in your own beliefs and or a bigot.

The more you whine the more likely I am to use his full name. President Barack Hussein Obama ... oh wow, so awful. Sorry to offend your bigoted view of "political correctness".

RE: Really?
By grant3 on 11/22/2013 7:12:15 PM , Rating: 2
Jason I don't know how you define "troll", but my comment is not pejorative. I tried to offer a non-emotional perspective on a small part of your article. I sincerely hope you receive it in the constructive spirit in which it was intended.

Nowhere did I write I was scared, shocked, nor gravely offended by your writing. Those assumptions are incorrect. Sharing the opinion that you wrote a single sentence sloppily indicates nothing more than a slight detraction in the quality of a single article.

My criticism of your writing style may be incorrect, but it does not make me a bigot.

Somehow you've created the impression, in some of your readers, that there is a subtext when you write Obama's name. If you don't believe that, or don't care, then certainly you can ignore my theory on how it's happening.

Please carefully read my comment and note that I searched for "George Walker Bush" on your site, with 1 result:

I assume you made an honest mistake when you searched for a different person with a different name, and received different results. Now you can understand that there was no "flat out lie".

Please accept my comments as coming from a positive place, or if you cannot, at least do not take them negatively. Best wishes!

RE: Really?
By JasonMick on 11/22/2013 8:22:19 PM , Rating: 2
my comment is not pejorative.
Well I'm glad you did not mean it in a negative way.

Let's look at what you claimed though.
Most journalists refer to Obama as "President Obama". When you deliberately write out his full name, it still does not add useful information.
Some do use his name. The President himself has used it.

Obama Elected President as Racial Barrier Falls

"Barack Hussein Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday, sweeping away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease as the country chose him as its first black chief executive."

Obama Enters Debate With Mosque Remarks By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG

"From the moment he took the oath of office, using his entire name, Barack Hussein Obama, as he swore to protect and defend the Constitution, Mr. Obama has personified the hopes of many Americans about tolerance and inclusion. He has devoted himself to reaching out to the Muslim world, vowing, as he did in Cairo last year, “a new beginning.”"


"At exactly noon, by law, Mr. Obama became president. Placing his hand on a Bible once used by Abraham Lincoln, he took the oath using his full name, Barack Hussein Obama -- a moment that stood in contrast to episodes on the long campaign trail in which detractors would occasionally stress his middle name in a derogatory way."

So the WSJ and NYT use his full name -- at least at times. He himself uses it at times. It's nothing to hide or be ashamed of. The press used George W. Bush's full name all the time -- why should we be afraid of putting the President's name lest we offend someone? In doing so that's intrinsically bigoted.

It's like never mentioning a public figure's black/g_ay/etc. relative lest we "offend someone" or make someone think we're intolerant. By being so afraid of appearing intolerant, you BECOME intolerant, by castigating something that you claim not to fear. If someone acts like it's "sloppy", "intolerant", etc. to say Barrack Obama's middle name they are -- intentionally or unintentionally -- creating the unspoken perception that it's bad to have a Muslim name. I think that's a terrible view to spread, so I'm going to keep saying the name until the bigots and closet bigots on both sides of the aisle can read it without blabbing about it being so shocking and wrong for me to use it.

I think you ... and anyone else... should evaluate my words carefully. If -- as some conservative writers have -- I say things that indicate religious intolerance, by all means take me to task. But I think you'll find I'm one of the most pro-freedom pro-tolerance individuals out there.

I support g_ay rights, religious freedoms, racial equality, and pretty much anything else that allows people to be themselves without harming others.

I think your commentary comes in part from the mistaken notion that those who are fiscally conservative (as I am) vote Republican or are associated with the Christian evangelical movement. But I sure didn't vote for Romney (or Obama) and I'm sure not an evangelical (thank G-d!).

Let me be clear. Yes some people have used his name in a derogatory way because they are bigoted and can't deal with living in a modern society in which people of all colors and religions must find a way to peacefully coexist.

I am absolutely opposed to such notions. And I think the best way to dispel prejudice is to put reality cold and hard in the face of such people.

Our President is named Barack Hussein Obama. Whatever you feel about his performance that is his name. If you have a problem with that or you find that offensive, clearly you are one with the issues.

I fine the name just fine. Not a fan of some of his policies, but religion plays no part of that. I'd gladly voted for someone named "Ali", "Hussein", "Mohammed", or any other common Muslim name if I supported their policies. It's high time we get beyond that.

I'm going to keep putting his name and inevitably people will keep coming out of the woodwork complaining about it, and in the process showing their own prejudices. I think that's a healthy process. Let's flush out and purge these foul elements of society and expose them for the medieval mindset they hold.

Second there's more to my putting his full name than just getting a rise out of people. I often put individuals' full names, links to their titles, etc. I write in a highly detailed manner (or try to) and I think many of my readers appreciate that. Some may not.

But part of me putting his full name is just my writing style -- which has a propensity to detail. You apparently think that's negative, but you're welcome to go and start a competing blog and show me what a great writer you are. Go ahead.
Please carefully read my comment and note that I searched for "George Walker Bush" on your site, with 1 result:

I assume you made an honest mistake when you searched for a different person with a different name, and received different results. Now you can understand that there was no "flat out lie
Alright, but as I showed I cleared used his father's middle name multiple times.

The fact of the matter is I joined DailyTech in 2007 and at the time I was still developing my style, as this was my first major column gig. In other words, my issue with your comment is that you ignored context while making accusations that I was somehow being defamatory by listing a person's full name.
Somehow you've created the impression, in some of your readers, that there is a subtext when you write Obama's name. If you don't believe that, or don't care, then certainly you can ignore my theory on how it's happening.
I can't control what people think.

It's clear that some people are uncomfortable with the fact that the President has a Muslim middle name. Clearly they need to get over it. So I am going to keep putting it and their childish comments will probably keep getting voted down.
Please accept my comments as coming from a positive place, or if you cannot, at least do not take them negatively. Best wishes!

I didn't mean to be overly negative on your initial comment, I just felt you jumped to some pretty extreme conclusions and didn't really dig into the evidence... for example the fact that I hadn't written about any President (and thus hadn't had much opportunity to put anyone's middle name (!)) prior to Obama.

I still take issue with your commentary that the sentence was "sloppy" as I feel detail is important.

But I'm glad you at least realize (I think) that I mean no prejudice by it. If it doesn't offend you, next time you see me you his name, please don't join in with the rabble who actually ARE somehow responding out of a bigoted/scared mindset -- i.e. some other ops in this thread, by all appearances.

RE: Really?
By FITCamaro on 11/22/2013 8:38:40 AM , Rating: 1
Where in the heck do you find a charge to call him a birther because he uses the man's full name?

RE: Really?
By superflex on 11/22/2013 10:21:03 AM , Rating: 1
That's the Alinsky coming out in him.
You must label, then castigate that which disparages the progressive agenda.
BHO is a progressive's wet dream.

"Death Is Very Likely The Single Best Invention Of Life" -- Steve Jobs

Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki