After Decades of Explosions, Battery Startups Give the Green Light to Liquid and Lithium-Metal

Cuberg says it’s all in how you make your electrolyte

Steve LeVine
The Mobilist
Published in
3 min readMar 12, 2021

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A rendering of Northvolt’s planned Swedish battery factory. Photo courtesy of Northvolt

Forecasts of a revolution in batteries — ushering in much cheaper electric vehicles with far greater range — have rested largely on the promise of a coming technological breakthrough: an electrode made of pure lithium metal, delivering much more energy than current lithium-ion. The prognostications have even foreshadowed what that leap would look like: Since lithium is exceedingly reactive and can explode when in contact with liquid, the much-sought battery would feature a “solid-state” separator that allows ions to shuttle quickly while preventing the two electrodes from shorting out.

But two big announcements this week suggest that the decadeslong quest for a magical solid-state battery material may have been unnecessary. A liquid electrolyte, both suggested, works just fine with lithium metal.

What makes lithium-metal seductive to battery-makers is the energy it produces while weighing relatively little. Lithium-metal can pack in about 50% more energy than lithium-ion in the same space, allowing automakers to charge much less for electric vehicles (EVs) than they currently do.

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Steve LeVine
The Mobilist

Editor at Large, Medium, covering the turbulence all around us, electric vehicles, batteries, social trends. Writing The Mobilist. Ex-Axios, Quartz, WSJ, NYT.