Colorado startup starts pilot production of solid-state battery cells for automakers

A Colorado startup working to deliver what’s considered the next evolution in electric vehicles has started production of solid-state battery cells for automakers to test.

Solid Power in Louisville said Monday that its pilot production line is up and running to make silicon, solid-state battery cells, which will be delivered to its partners Ford Motor Co. and BMW by the end of the year. The automakers will then start qualification testing on the cells.

“It’s a fairly big and major milestone,” said Doug Campbell, Solid Power’s co-founder and CEO.

The company will deliver thousands of the full-scale cells to get the automakers through a validation phase, which will determine whether the product meets automotive specifications.

Production of the material used in Solid Power’s battery cells is expected to start by the end of September at the company’s new 75,000-square-foot plant in Thornton.

Solid Power was founded in 2011 as a spinoff from a research venture of the University of Colorado-Boulder.

The standard batteries used in electric vehicles are lithium-ion batteries, which use liquid to move the charge between electrodes. A solid-state battery uses solid materials, such as ceramic or polymers. The solid material allows the cell to be thinner and lighter, increasing the energy density and power.

Another major advantage is that solid materials aren’t flammable and as sensitive to heat as the liquids are. In 2021, General Motors recalled the Chevrolet Bolt electric car after fires were reported, raising concerns about potential defects in the lithium-ion battery packs. A recall was issued for the Hyundai Konas built 2018-2020 due to battery fires.

Campbell believes Solid Power’s technology, which uses sulfide-based material, can address two of what he calls “the overarching market pain points” for electric vehicles: range and price.

“We hear lots and lots of stuff in the press around range anxiety. A solid-state battery should deliver on significantly higher cell-level energy density and specific energy,” Campbell said.

The end result should be that people can drive farther before having to recharge.

Another issue solid-state batteries should be able to address is the car’s price tag, Campbell said. “For the most part, electric vehicles are still fairly expensive. A lot of the reason they’re so expensive is the complexity of that battery pack.”

Cooling and additional engineering is employed to try to prevent lithium-ion batteries from overheating. Campbell said skipping those steps likely will cut costs by about 10%.

Safety, potential lower costs and being able to drive farther are among the anticipated benefits of solid-state batteries. A big challenge is making a cell in which the ions move as easily through solid material as they do through a liquid solution.

“It’s a problem the field has been working on for a long time. In the last 10 years, we have discovered materials that can actually move ions very quickly and that’s great,” said Matthew McDowell,an associate professor at the George Institute of Technology.

McDowell, who leads a 15-member team whose research includes solid-state batteries, said scientists are now exploring the engineering required to make sure the battery doesn’t degrade, decreasing its life.

“It was a long process with conventional lithium-ion batteries decades ago,” McDowell said. “They solved a lot of those issues with degradation. That’s what enabled the commercialization of lithium-ion batteries.”

McDowell believes solid-state batteries will be used commercially in the next three or four years, but likely in smaller devices such as cellphones.

“I don’t know about electric vehicles,” he added. “I think it’s really frustrating for the public to hear a lot about advances in battery science and technology and it seems like it takes forever to get to the market.”

McDowell said Solid Power is among the leading startups working on solid-state batteries. “I would say they’re working on a particular technology that’s quite promising. There are four or five companies that have received quite a bit of venture funding, including Solid Power.”

Late last year, Solid Power went public after completing a merger with Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corporation III, a special purpose acquisition company.

Campbell said Solid Power is “growing like crazy.” He said the staff has grown to more than 160 and has 30 to 40 openings with more in the works.

“We’ve been very proud of our role in putting Colorado on the map as it pertains to the automotive industry, which let’s face it, hasn’t been a historic strength of Colorado’s,” Campbell said. “We are proud not to be in Silicon Valley. We are proud to be based right here in Colorado.”

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