Somewhere in the outer reaches of talk radio, a ghost stalks the halls, mumbling of light bulbs and plastic bags and electric cars that won’t start in cold weather. Meanwhile, most automakers are not waiting around for the other shoe to drop. They have finally begun pivoting into the sparkling green world of zero emission personal mobility, even those once wedded to the idea of “clean diesel,” and a new battery formula is here to help.
Electric Vehicle Batteries: Good News, & Better News
Back in 2010, conservative pundits had great fun trashing GM’s Chevy Volt gas-electric hybrid, among other new electric vehicles. One good example was Rush Limbaugh, whose eponymous radio program The Rush Limbaugh Show ended last summer following the pundit’s passing at age 70 last February.
It’s really tough to argue against a smooth, quiet, reliable, fun-to-drive car, which you could recharge right at home instead of having to detour over to a gas station, so battery range provided an initial area of focus for Limbaugh and others. Unfortunately for them, range has improved over the years, and they had to find another place at which to sling mud.
That explains an August 2019 recording, still available online as of this writing, in which Limbaugh provides a list of battery complaints about everything but range. The litany covers toxic chemicals, recycling issues, and cold start problems. That also describes the state of affairs with gasmobiles, so maybe it’s time to take a closer look at conventional lead-acid battery recycling before throwing stones at electric cars.
For that matter, if the concern really is all about the environment perhaps a more helpful approach would be to take advantage of any available mass transit, walking, cycling, and e-biking options options. Especially e-biking, and more e-biking, even in the suburbs.
Where were we? Oh right, electric vehicle batteries. The good news is that new apps and new vehicle systems are pretty much erasing the cold-start issue, if there ever really was much of one. The better news is that the global recycling infrastructure is beginning to ramp up.
Even Better News About Electric Vehicle Batteries
For some even better news about electric vehicle batteries, check out some of the latest developments in the sustainable electric vehicle battery area. That covers improvements in durability and lifespan as well as efforts to reduce the use of hazardous or toxic materials, improve recycling technology, and focus on supply chains that reduce or eliminate material sourced from conflict zones.
That brings us to the US firm Group14 Technologies. Last year, the startup won an award of $3.96 million through the Energy Department’s new Energy Storage Grand Challenge, based on the potential for widespread, rapid adoption of its proprietary silicon-carbon anode formula.
Upon receiving the award, Group14 explained that its “breakthrough nanomaterials technology, Scaffold Prime™, is a patented, elegantly simple carbon chemistry process that transforms ultra-high purity raw precursors into silicon-carbon material, which is then tuned to the ideal electrochemical properties per given use case.”
But What Does That Mean?
Shorter version: The improvements offered by Group14’s silicon-carbon technology include ease of manufacturing in addition to enhanced battery performance compared to typical electric vehicle batteries, which are made graphite anodes or some version thereof.
When Group14 announced the award last year, it mentioned working towards commercialization with its key partner Cabot Corporation of Boston, and the firms Farasis of China, Silatronix of Wisconsin, and Arkema of France, along with the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratories.
It seems that a lot can happen in a year, including the addition of new key partners. Last month Group14 announced an agreement with the Slovakian energy storage firm InnoBat, which is forming its business model around battery recycling and the use of sustainable materials.
They’re not doing that just to be nice. In terms of sustainability, members of the car buying public have high expectations for electric vehicles. Buyers, including fleet managers, want to know about lifecycle emissions all the way up the supply chain.
In keeping with that sentiment, last month Group14 CEO and co-founder Rick Luebbe explained that why the company chose the state of Washington for its manufacturing facility.
“Two of the biggest reasons we decided to base Group14 in Washington are the access to clean power as well as the state’s aggressive sustainability initiatives to rapidly decarbonize over the next few decades,” he said. “It is encouraging to see strong public and private support for the development of a local clean energy economy.”
Last Gasp For Gasmobiles
The latest news from Group14 affirms that the Energy Department award is working as intended.
Last week that the company reported that Farasis Energy found a 25% “energy boost” for its EV batteries made with Group14’s “SCC55” silicon-carbon anodes.
By 25% energy boost, they mean a 25% increase in energy density, which translates into increased battery range without loss of performance.
For those of you keeping score at home, Farasis CTO Dr. Keith Kepler notes that an energy density of 260 Wh/kg is pretty good for electric vehicle batteries. With Group14’s new anode, the expectation is for 330 Wh/kg.
Speaking of Farasis, that’s where the Volvo connection comes in. Farasis is already partners with Geely, the Chinese company that purchased the car-making end of the Volvo business a while back (trucks and buses are made by Volvo Group, a separate company).
The Volvo connection is significant because Volvo cars used to be known for their use of diesel engines, back during the days when “clean diesel” was supposed to be a thing. Then the company got dinged by the diesel emissions scandal that embroiled Volkswagen during the Obama presidency, and now it seems that it will court the next generation of car buyers with technology that really is clean.
Mercedes could be one step ahead of Volvo in the diesel-to-EV switch. Farasis also has a relationship with Daimler, which has sheltered the Mercedes-Benz name since the 1920s.
It can’t be a moment too soon for Mercedes to drop its diesel engines into the dustbin of history. The carmaker is among those suffering through the repercussions of the diesel scandal, and it is currently facing a new lawsuit from a consumer group over the affair.
Last summer, Mercedes took steps to restore its brand reputation with a splashy new EV announcement featuring battery range that could top 600 miles, which should put all that talk about range anxiety on permanent vacation.
Mercedes is not taking anything for granted, though. Concurrent with its EV announcement, the company also enlisted Shell (yes, Shell) to help beef up its plans for building out the EV charging station network.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image: New anodes for EV batteries courtesy of Group14 Technologies.
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