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SolidPower researchers in Colorado developing solid state lithium batteries
SolidPower researchers in Colorado developing solid state lithium batteries

SolidPower: The Solid State Breakthrough EVs Are Looking For

By Bill Moore

The current generation of lithium-ion batteries have given us day-long cellphones, hours-long laptops and 200+ mile electric cars. Now solid-state batteries are about to dramatically improve duration and even charge times; and Colorado-based SolidPower is aiming to lead that charge.

When you think about, the cylindrical batteries that power Tesla's coveted electric cars are a serious waste of space. Really, how many can you pack together with all that empty space around them?

Worse, each cell is stuffed inside a tiny steel can that also adds weight. Ganging them all together adds further complexity and cost.

What if you didn't have to use those cans and could just leave all that useless space out of your battery pack? Even more importantly, what if you could eliminate the liquid electrolyte inside the cell: that jelly-like substance that facilities the movement of lithium ions from the cathode to the anode and back as the cell discharges and recharges, that same goo that can catch fire and turn a pack into molten metal and an EV into blackened junk.

That's the promise of solid state batteries, batteries that can't catch fire and don't need that expensive, heavy metal can used in the typical 18650 cell. If there's a "holy grail" for the next generation of mobile tech and EV batteries, it's solid state, which companies like Sakti3 and now SolidPower have been pursuing over the last decade.

In this 30+ minute interview, I talk with SolidPower CEO Douglas Campbell about his Colorado-based company, which is seeking to leverage technology developed by a pair of professors at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Based in Louisville, on the edge of the Colorado foothills, the company was formed in 2012 with the mission to perfect its separator technology, the insulator that separates the anode and cathode components of the battery. In the process, they also found ways to improve other materials in the battery including the use of lithium metal anodes, which allow for a vast improvement in the batteries energy storage capacity.

Campbell, a Colorado entrepreneur who helped form the company with the two professors, walks us through a layman's explanation of what a solid state battery is and what its potential impact can be, including the very real feasibility of building a massive, single, end-to-end cell that is the battery pack, rather than the current cell-to-module-to-pack design we have now.

As you'd expect, carmakers have, indeed, come a courting to investigate SolidPower's technology and at some point, Campbell sees them or an allied producer like Panasonic for Tesla or LG Chem for GM license their tech, with SolidPower supplying their special electrolyte-free separator. He also wants the company manufacturing complete batteries, but for more custom applications such as medical devices and military hardware.

You can listen to the interview in its entirety using the embedded player below or by downloading it to your favorite MP3 player.

Times Article Viewed: 5832
Originally published: 27 Nov 2017

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