SolidEnergy Systems is an MIT spin-off that is following in the footsteps of another MIT connected start-up — A123 Systems. A123 flamed out spectacularly, which has made many people skeptical about any news claiming yet another battery breakthrough, but in this case it may be true. SolidEnergy Systems was founded in 2012 by MIT alumnus and former post-doctoral student Qichao Hu, who says his team has developed a battery with twice the energy capacity of the lithium ion batteries that power most of today’s consumer electronics.
An ordinary battery uses graphite for its anode. The SolidEnergy battery uses a very thin, high energy lithium metal foil instead. It can hold more ions which means it has more energy capacity. Chemical modifications to the electrolyte also make the typically short-lived and volatile lithium metal batteries rechargeable and safer to use. The best news is the new batteries can be manufactured using existing lithium ion battery manufacturing equipment, which makes them scalable.
“Industry standard is that electric vehicles need to go at least 200 miles on a single charge. We can make the battery half the size and half the weight, and it will travel the same distance, or we can make it the same size and same weight, and now it will go 400 miles on a single charge,” Hu tells MIT News.
The first demonstration of the new battery took place a year ago when SolidEnergy showed off a new iPhone 6 battery that was half the size of the original but had slightly more power. That demonstration earned the company $12 million in new investment money. SolidEnergy plans to bring the batteries to smartphones and wearables in early 2017, and to electric cars in 2018.
The SolidEnergy battery uses an extremely thin lithium metal foil for the anode. It is about one fifth the thickness of a traditional lithium metal anode and several times thinner and lighter than traditional graphite, carbon, or silicon anodes. That’s what helps make the size of the battery so small. The researchers also developed a solid and liquid hybrid electrolyte solution that doesn’t need to be heated to function. The final result was a battery with the long lasting energy of lithium metal batteries, but the safety and longevity of lithium ion batteries, Hu said.
In 2012, the SolidEnergy team won first prize in the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition’s Accelerator Contest and was a finalist for the MIT Clean Energy Prize. The team also placed second at the national Clean Energy Prize competition at the White House.
Researchers have tried to make rechargeable lithium metal batteries for decades, with no success, Hu said. “It is kind of the holy grail for batteries,” he added. Lithium metal reacts poorly with a battery’s electrolyte—a liquid that conducts ions between the cathode (positive electrode) and the anode (negative electrode). And measures to make the batteries safer usually cost its energy performance.
The final result was a battery with the long lasting energy of lithium metal batteries but the safety and longevity of lithium ion batteries, Hu says. In 2012, the SolidEnergy team won the first-place prize at the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition’s Accelerator Contest, and was a finalist in the MIT Clean Energy Prize. The team also placed second at the national Clean Energy Prize competition at the White House.
Battery breakthrough news is almost a daily or weekly event these days. It often takes a decade or more for new technology that works in the laboratory to make its way to market. Will the SolidEnergy perform as advertised in the real world? Electric cars with 400 miles of range would go a long way toward hastening the day when zero emissions cars rule the roads of America and the world.
Source and graphic credit: MIT News