Building on the existing award-winning Argonne-Envia collaboration, the Argonne license contributed complementary technology to Envia’s development of industry-leading lithium-ion battery solutions. General Motors also invested $7 million in Envia to provide its “battery engineering team with access to advanced lithium-ion cathode technology that delivers higher cell energy density and lower cost.” Other Envia Investors include Asahi Kasei and Asahi Glass, Bay Partners, Redpoint and Panagea Ventures totaling $17 million.
To bring a freshness, excitement, and sense of mission to energy research that will attract many of the U.S.’s best and brightest minds—those of experienced scientists and engineers, and, especially, those of students and young researchers, including persons in the entrepreneurial world.
Electric Car Batteries
It seems to be paying off as at the third annual summit for the Advanced Research Projects Agency•Energy Envia announced test results which verify the companies next-generation rechargeable battery has achieved the highest ever recorded energy density of 400 Watt-hours/kilogram (Wh/kg) for a rechargeable lithium-ion cell. When this new electric car batteries technology is commercialized, the 400 Wh/kg electric car battery breakthrough is expected to cut the price of new cars with an electric car range of 300 miles per charge by more than 50% for the battery pack. These testing for Envia’s next generation lithium-ion battery was performed by the Electrochemical Power Systems Department at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Crane Division, located in Crane, Indiana which is 90 miles southwest of Indianapolis under the sponsorship of the ARPA•E.
Research at Argonne found that adding manganese in a mix of materials for the cathode, or the electrode to which the lithium ions flock that better energy densities could be achieved. The team then switched focus to the anode which is the electrode from which lithium ions flow to produce the electric current, also boosting its performance by incorporating silicon along with the standard graphite. With the addition of carbon with silicon, researchers claim to have bypassed the silicon anodes which have disabled other batteries abilities to charge and discharge time and time again.
In layman’s terms, the silicon swells according to Kamar, “It will hardly last 10 cycles because of the high volumetric changes.” However when they encase it in a carbon coating along with intertwining carbon fibers with silicon fibers, the Envia team argues that it has surmounted that problem and its battery has cycled 400 times and still counting, just like the energizer bunny I suppose. Kumar also added that “even if the silicon pulverizes in the first cycle, connectivity is maintained through the carbon fibers; however that will ultimately affect the voltage.”
Then there is so-called “thermal runaway,” which is an engineering term for lithium-ion batteries bursting into flames which has been a persistent problem with energy-dense storage devices based on lithium-ion technology. This is particularly true in cars where batteries must undergo a test in which an 8-millimeter nail penetrates the battery at speed. Envia claims its batteries passed that test. Kumar stated in his announcement that “it’s mainly that the cells are much thinner. It’s very easy to remove the heat, though it will be up to each individual automaker whether they want to employ air or liquid cooling for the battery packs.”
Electric Car Range
In a press release for the announcement, Envia Systems Chairman and CEO Atul Kapadia stated:
In an industry where energy density tends to increase five percent a year, our achievement of more than doubling state-of-art energy density and lowering cost by half is a giant step towards realizing Envia’s mission of mass market affordability of a 300-mile electric vehicle. The batteries come in at $125 per kilowatt-hour which is less than half of what current batteries cost. The battery costs for an electric car account for 65% of the total cost, so this is great news for the future of electric car batteries! We expect Envia’s next generation lithium-ion battery will revolutionize the [electric vehicle] industry by eliminating the three remaining barriers to mass adoption: cost, range and safety. The ability to drive up to 300 miles on a single charge will eliminate ‘range anxiety.’
Now comes the hard part, which, in addition to further independent testing, the Envia battery must now embark on the multi-year process of testing by actual car-makers. GM is a big investor, however Envia declined to identify who is interested. Kapadia stated that “we are working with all the brand name [carmakers] around the world. The idea is to either form joint ventures to produce the batteries in tandem or to license the technology to pre-existing partners.”
We hope we won’t have to wait too long, as this promising new electric car batteries lithium-ion batteries technology breakthrough effectively tripling the electric car range of the current 80 miles of the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt. And who said that the electric car was dead?