Solid Power, a battery developer backed by Ford and BMW, is expanding its Colorado-based factory footprint as it prepares pilot production of its solid state batteries early next year.
The new production facility will be dedicated to manufacturing one of the company’s flagship products, a sulfide-based solid electrolyte material, by up to 25 times its current output. The new facility will also make room for the first pilot production line of its commercial-grade, 100 ampere battery cells. Those pouch cells are expected to go to Ford and BMW for automotive testing in early 2022, with the aim of getting them into driver-ready vehicles by the latter half of the decade.
Solid state batteries have long been considered the next breakthrough in battery technology. They lack a liquid electrolyte, the material that moves ions between the cathode and anode in traditional lithium-ion batteries, as TechCrunch writer Mark Harris has explained. The gains from such technology, SSB developers say, include increased energy density, reduced costs and a superior battery life expectancy.
Developers also say they’re safer — an important consideration in light of incidents like GM’s three-times recall of Chevrolet Bolt vehicles due to fire risk. It’s the liquid electrolyte that serves as “the spark that leads to thermal runaway,” Solid Power CEO Doug Campbell told TechCrunch. “We believe very strongly that these issues that both Hyundai and GM are now facing would be addressed with a solid-state battery.”
While the startup will be building out a new battery cell pilot production line, Solid Power’s ultimate plan is to eventually only produce the electrolyte material and license out the cell to OEMs and battery manufacturers.
“Long term, we’re a materials company,” Campbell said. “We want to be the industry leader in solid electrolyte materials.” To that end, this current expansion to cell production will likely be the company’s last, he said. The forthcoming pilot production line will produce enough to supply multiple OEMs with cells for automotive qualification testing, with the intent of larger production scales being undertaken by automakers and battery cell producers.
The decision to license the battery cells to partners, rather than produce them all in-house, is an asset-light model born from commonsense, he added.
“Let’s face it, what’s the probability that little Solid Power is going to grow up and displace the likes of Panasonic, LG, CATL?” While some companies are attempting it, like Sweden’s Northvolt, Campbell added that the material business margins are higher and don’t include direct competitors that are all but behemoths. “It’s capital-light, but it’s also realistic.”
The startup said in June it would go public via a $1.2 billion reverse merger with blank-check firm Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corp. III. The transaction, which is anticipated to generate around $600 million in cash, should give the company enough funds through 2026 or 2027, Campbell said.
The company will need plenty of capital to take it through the rest of the decade, especially as it aims to produce enough electrolyte material to support 10 gigawatt-hour annual cell capacity by 2207. For that, it’ll need “orders of magnitude” more electrolyte production capacity than was even announced today (which is itself an order of magnitude increase), Campbell said.
Solid Power doesn’t even plan on stopping at electrolyte production. Campbell hinted that the company is also at work developing a low-cost cathode material – one that contains no nickel or cobalt, two of the costliest raw battery materials.
“[The industry] is going to be dominated by the cost of materials and the cost of materials is going to be dominated by the cost of that nickel- and cobalt-containing cathode material,” he said. “This particular chemistry that we’ll be disclosing later this year is extremely low cost, we’re talking 1/20th, 1/30th the cost of today’s [nickel manganese cobalt cathodes].”