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Startup Sionic Energy promises next-gen battery benefits without the wait

Sionic says its silicon anode and customized electrolytes can slip into existing manufacturing lines with ease.
By Julian Spector

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A decade-old materials company relaunched Tuesday in an effort to beat other advanced battery startups to market.

Sionic Energy, formerly known as NOHMs Technologies, has designed a silicon anode that it says will provide 50 percent more energy density and 30 percent lower cost than conventionally available lithium-ion battery cells with graphite anodes.

The silicon anode, based on research conducted at the University of Colorado, works in concert with proprietary electrolytes developed by NOHMs Technologies over the past decade. 

Crucially, these materials can slide right into existing manufacturing lines, rather than requiring lengthy and costly upgrades to produce, CEO Ed Williams told Canary Media.

Some of the other advanced technology will take quite a number of years before it can become mainstream,” Williams said. We have designed this to fit…into existing processes, supply chains and equipment.”

The next-generation battery sector is especially frothy these days. Competitors working on solid-state batteries or silicon anodes promise radical upgrades for electric car batteries and clean energy storage on the grid, two markets that are set for propulsive growth in the coming years. And the Biden administration’s proposal to spend billions of dollars on vehicle electrification and clean energy only adds to the stakes.

Claims of mind-blowing battery improvements are abundant — but they need to be backed up by third-party validation. Sionic is currently running its own tests in-house as a precursor to getting battery manufacturers interested in testing the technology themselves.

Sionic’s go-to-market strategy is to first supply batteries for drones and consumer electronics in 2023 or 2024. Those products need batteries that last for 200 to 400 cycles, Williams said, which is faster to prove than car batteries, which need vetting for 1,000 cycles. If Sionic wins over car battery manufacturers, the technology could start propelling vehicles by the middle of the decade.

That’s a similar timeline to what other advanced battery companies have promised. Sionic is betting that its approach will prove to be easier and cheaper to adopt for the companies that have already sunk massive investment into their factories.

Instead of re-engineering silicon to tamp down on its propensity to expand and contract during cycling, Sionic uses low-cost micron silicon and designs around that property.

If you fight physics, physics always wins,” said Sionic CTO Surya Moganty. We are controlling, or engineering, that expansion of silicon so it does not cause problems.”

Sionic also leans on its corporate pedigree to design an electrolyte that’s optimized for safe performance with the new anode. That’s important, because changing one key component of a battery typically affects how the other pieces perform.

At the same time, Sionic doesn’t make its own cathodes; its anode is agnostic” in terms of the cathode materials it can be used with, Williams said. That means a company that licenses the technology can pair it with whatever cathode chemistry (such as NMC, NCA, LFP) or form factor (cylindrical, pouch, prismatic) it desires.

Rather than requiring new manufacturing equipment, Sionic’s recipe just needs a slightly higher temperature for the drying stage of battery production, Williams said.

Sionic is now raising a new equity round; it previously raised $9 million in equity investment to develop electrolytes.

The company is up against some better-funded rivals in the advanced battery race. Solid-state startup QuantumScape went public via a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC), securing $1 billion in capital and, at least temporarily, a $20 billion valuation. (See Canary Media’s coverage of QuantumScape’s latest drama.)

Sila Nanotechnologies, helmed by Tesla alum Gene Berdichevsky, has raised several hundred million dollars to commercialize its silicon anode. Several others are chasing silicon anodes or solid-state batteries, but these advanced designs are generally regarded to be at least a few years away from full commercialization.

(Article image courtesy of Sionic Energy)

Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.