Quiet, sporty and easy to drive, electric cars are the obvious zero emissions transportation solution for the world of tomorrow. As logical as they may be, however, their one Achilles heel — the cost, weight and limited range of battery packs — is preventing them from effecting the transportation revolution they yearn for.
It’s no wonder then that researchers all over the world are chasing the holy grail of the electric vehicle battery pack, one which is cheaper to make, more powerful and more compact than current designs. One which can extend the range of an electric vehicle to well beyond that of most gasoline cars.
So far, we’ve seen lots of theoretical solutions presented in the world of academia — but now a seven-year-old company from Michigan says its solid state battery technology has what it takes to change the world of electric cars forever.
As Gigom reports, battery startup Sakti3 — a fledgling University of Michigan spin-out — has unveiled a solid state lithium-ion battery pack which is not only cheaper to make than current generation lithium-ion battery packs but is also safer and far more energy dense.
The key to the solid state technology lies in its use of a solid electrolyte instead of the liquid electrolyte found in traditional lithium-ion battery packs. More chemically stable than liquid-electrolyte battery packs, the solid state technology also has a far higher energy density than lithium-ion battery packs with liquid electrolyte — up to 1.1 kW hours per litre volume says Sakti3 — making them ideal for high energy usage environments.
To prove the safety of its battery pack design, Sakti3 even filmed one of its battery cells undergoing extreme heat tests, dropping molten soldering flux heated to approximately 550 degrees Celsius onto the cell during a discharge test. Despite a brief rise in voltage due to the extreme heat of the flux, the cell continues to function normally.
Sakti3 says its battery technology — for which it received four individual patents last year alone — could transform the operating time of an electronic gadget like a smart watch from 3.5 hours to more than 9, make a smartphone’s battery pack last for days, or dramatically increase the range of an electric car. Using the current physical battery pack size of the Tesla Model S as a guide, Saki3 says it could give a Tesla Model S a range in excess of 480 miles, nearly double the EPA-approved 256 miles of the 85 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack currently found in the top-spec model.
What makes Sakti3 stand out from the rest of the numerous battery companies and research firms looking at improving lithium-ion battery technology however is the amount of attention it has been receiving. Sakti3 has been listed in as one of the top ten most innovative companies by Crain’s Detroit Business, and as one of the top 50 most disruptive companies of 2012 by MIT Tech Review.
And that’s before you account for more than $30 million in venture funding from various companies including GM Ventures, Khosla Ventures, and Itochu, not to mention a grant from the State of Michigan.
If that’s not enough to pique your interest however, perhaps this is: Sakti3 CEO Ann Marie Sastry said earlier today in an official statement that the company’s latest generation of solid-state lithium-ion battery could be commercially produced for around $100 per kilowatt-hour. At the moment, the best automotive-grade lithium-ion battery packs — the ones being built by Tesla Motors in partnership with Panasonic — equate to a cost of around $200 to $300 per kilowatt-hour.
Tie this in with research from earlier this week suggesting that 100-mile electric cars made most financial sense until lithium-ion battery packs reached a cost of $100 per kilowatt-hour, and we think you’ll appreciate that Sakti3 is a company you’ll want to watch.
Like so many academically-nurtured companies however, there’s a very long way between the lab and the production line. Let’s hope Sakti3 can succeed where so many other battery firms before them have failed — and make the transition to large-scale, reliable production easily and quickly.
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