The Great Battery Convergence: 2025 Is Set to Be a Transformative Year for EVs
Is it only coincidence? EV and battery-makers are all heading towards the same basic strategy
If all goes according to plan, Gene Berdichevsky’s advanced batteries will be in electric BMWs and Daimlers in 2025, providing at least a 20% jump in energy density. With that juice, their EVs may cost substantially less, go further on each battery charge, or a little of both. To get there, Berdichevsky’s company, Sila Nanotechnologies, has just raised $590 million, with plans to build a battery plant with triple the capacity of Elon Musk’s iconic Nevada Gigafactory, and produce the first commercial silicon anode, an elusive leap sought for decades by researchers around the world.
But, in a much-overlooked convergence of economy-moving technology, Berdichevsky’s batteries will have company: GM says it, too, will have a souped-up EV battery in the middle of the decade, with much the same advantages touted by Sila. So does VW — in its case a cutting-edge lithium-metal battery made by QuantumScape, which promises delivery in 2024. Solid Power, another lithium-metal anode startup, is aiming its battery for 2026. All will still have to contend with juggernaut Tesla, which says a top-to-bottom transformation of its battery will be ready by 2023, although followers of the company know that such promises can slip by a couple of years or more.
By coincidence or design, the middle of the decade is shaping up as a transformative moment for new, ultrapowerful batteries. In a massive collision, battery-makers and automakers are promising breakthrough EVs all at roughly the same time, with the same promises — EVs that will cost around the same as conventional gasoline-driven vehicles, travel far greater distance, and charge fast.
This is no mere change of models. Until now, EVs have been dominated by flawed and half-baked vehicles, often or even mostly decidedly inferior to their combustion competition. Even Tesla, with by far the best-selling EVs on the planet, has veered toward getting its models out onto the road fast, and worried about quality control later. But at a faster and faster pace over the last year and in recent months, automaker after automaker has seemed to conclude that the world really is going electric, and increasingly are designing new EVs from scratch. Ford, perhaps the most blasé about EVs of the major carmakers, is suddenly in a frenzy not to be left behind.
What will make the vehicles transformational is a fundamental jump in the sophistication of the batteries, the nervous system of every EV. The middle of the decade appears likely to mark the appearance of the first commercial batteries containing either silicon or lithium-metal anodes, both of which, on paper at least, can add much energy density to a battery. In the case of current technology, graphite, or carbon, anodes store a sprinkling of lithium. Physically speaking, six carbon atoms store one lithium atom — lithium being the energy in a battery; the more lithium, the more energy. But every silicon atom can store up to 4.4 lithium atoms. Hence the quest to make a silicon anode work. Similarly, pure lithium metal can deliver much more energy than just the crumbs currently used in batteries. What has kept both materials out of batteries until now is that silicon expands catastrophically, and lithium metal can short circuit batteries and ignite a fire.
Now, however, companies like Sila, QuantumScape, and Solid Power say they have cracked the code of their respective technologies.
What this means is that, while an EV proving ground, the middle of the decade may also mark the beginning of a bloodletting for the losing companies that can’t get their electric transformation right. Similarly, if combustion vehicles cannot put up a fight to stay in the game, they will enter a long, cascading period of obsolescence, as motorists become increasingly wary of buying conventional vehicles for fear they will fast lose value.
It’s not clear how or why 2025 has taken on so much significance. In an interview yesterday, Jagdeep Singh, CEO of QuantumScape, said that automakers may have only made their big decisions over the last year or so: Four years may sound like a long time, but in the automotive industry it’s a single product cycle. Say you are GM and you decide right now that you want a zinc-metal battery that will take a Corvette 500 miles on a single charge. If you move as fast as you possibly can, you’d validate the battery, design the vehicle from the bottom up as an EV, and start to scale. Still, the quickest you could have the vehicle to the market would probably be around 2025. “Because the new vehicle development timeline can be four to seven years, depending on the process at different OEMs, anything fundamentally transformational in the fleet is going to be four to seven years away,” Singh said.
This week, QuantumScape announced it is building a pre-pilot plant to accelerate the supply of test cells for VW’s EVs. Construction will begin right away but not be finished until 2023, just a year before the batteries are to go into commercial VWs. “That’s just how long it takes to go from test cars to production to volume,” Singh said.
Berdichevsky was a central player in creating Tesla’s first battery management system, and among its earliest employees. About a decade ago, he launched Sila with Alex Jacobs, who worked with him at Tesla, and Gleb Yushin, a professor at Georgia Tech.
A little over three weeks ago, Sila closed on its Series F money raise of $590 million. Berdichevsky has been scouting sites for a 100 GWh factory to make its light black anode powder. He won’t say exactly where he is looking apart from that the places are all in North America, that the plant will be finished in 2024, and that it will be strategically sited according to its raw material and customers.
As of now, the only commercial batteries containing silicon, such as those produced by Panasonic for Tesla, are generally thought to be about 5% of the anode. By the end of the year, however, Berdichevsky said Sila anodes made on current production equipment will be in consumer devices with 50% silicon and no graphite, making them the first truly commercial silicon electrode. Samsung is an investor in his company, but he won’t say which company or what devices he is supplying.
Berdichevsky’s new plant will have the capacity to produce anodes for 1 million EVs a year, he said. In 2025, the first anodes will go into BMWs and Daimlers. Down the road will come a second plant, and a third. The moment for EV hesitancy is over. “These aren’t for demo cars, right?” Berdichevsky said. “This is mass production for specific vehicle models. I just can’t say what those specifics are.”