Startup Solid Power has a new pile of cash to carry its next-generation batteries into electric car production.
The Colorado-based company makes a fully solid-state electrolyte and packages it into cells that promise improvement in safety and energy density compared to today's lithium-ion cells. These features are alluring to electric vehicle makers.
So it's no accident that BMW Group and Ford Motor Company led the $130 million Series B investment announced Monday, along with battery-oriented venture fund Volta Energy Technologies. Equinor Ventures, a subsidiary of the Norwegian energy giant, also joined the round.
Solid Power spent the last few years demonstrating manufacturability at its megawatt-hour-scale production line in Boulder, Colorado, CEO Doug Campbell told Canary Media. Though far smaller than the gigafactories where commercial batteries are made, the facility mirrors the inputs and equipment used in full-scale battery production.
"That value proposition has been validated," Campbell said of the manufacturability question. "Now...let’s qualify these and get them into vehicles."
The first step is to ramp production to the full-size cells needed for car batteries. That should happen by this time next year, Campbell said. Then Solid Power can begin the process of qualification, in which automakers figure out how to put the batteries into a vehicle design.
If that goes well — always a big "if" in the realm of advanced battery manufacturing — Solid Power would start cell production in 2025 for vehicles that would ship in 2026. BMW said it expects a demonstrator vehicle "well before 2025."
The shift from promising laboratory science to success in commercial factory conditions is a "giant leap," said Jeff Chamberlain, founder and CEO of Volta and a veteran of the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory.
"Solid Power is not a science experiment," Chamberlain said. "To Volta’s knowledge, this is the only all-solid-state battery company that is not a science experiment."
That "all-solid-state" distinction carries particular weight in the battery world. Liquid electrolytes tend to be volatile, putting them at risk of starting battery fires if a short circuit heats them up. Swapping in a solid electrolyte could minimize that risk, which unlocks the use of more energy-dense lithium-metal anodes.
Buzzy, publicly traded battery company QuantumScape is often referred to as a solid-state innovator. But the company acknowledged to Bloomberg that it uses some liquid materials. Much of its effort goes toward developing a sophisticated ceramic separator that lets lithium ions* through but keeps other materials out.
The effort to commercialize better batteries parallels a sort of arms race among car companies to secure the best new batteries for their vehicles.
- QuantumScape won over Volkswagen as an investor. VW invested another $100 million in March after QuantumScape hit a technical milestone, the companies said.
- SES (formerly SolidEnergy Systems, not to be confused with Solid Power) claims it built "a far more practical, better-performing, and complete Li-metal system than today’s solid-state alternatives." General Motors led a $139 million Series D for SES in April.
- BMW and Ford both invested in Solid Power and expanded their joint development agreements for its batteries. Hyundai invested in 2018.
"Volta is placing its capital on who we think is very clearly in the lead in that race," Chamberlain said.
(Article image courtesy of Solid Power)
*Updated to clarify that lithium ions pass through the separator.
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