When it comes to battery innovation the focus is often given to new chemical compounds and materials. It is often overlooked the importance of manufacturing processes to bring lower costs.
The MIT spinout 24M Technologies has simplified lithium-ion battery production using a revolutionary design that requires less components and less steps to create each cell. The company claims that the new design, which it refers to as “SemiSolid” for its use of gooey electrodes, cuts the cost of production by around 40 percent. This approach also improves batteries efficiency as well as safety and recycling capabilities.
If you look at the industry’s interest it appears that 24M has a point. Since it came into stealth mode the year 2015, 24M has licensed its technology to multinational companies like Volkswagen, Fujifilm, Lucas TVS, Axxiva, and Freyr. These three companies have plans to construct gigafactories (factories that have gigawatt-sized annual capacity for production) built on the 24M technological innovations within India, China, Norway and Norway, and the United States.
“The SemiSolid platform has been demonstrated by the hundreds of megawatts that are being generated for residential energy storage systems. We are now looking to prove it on a gigawatt scale.” claims 24M’s CEO Naoki Ota who is a member of 24M’s team, which includes co-founder, chief scientist and MIT Professor Yet-Ming Cheng.
The establishment of large-scale production lines is just the initial phase of 24M’s strategy. Another advantage of the battery is that it works with a variety of lithium-ion chemistry. This means 24M’s partners can integrate better-performing materials later down the line without having to drastically alter manufacturing procedures.
The rapid massive production of the next generation of batteries that 24M is hoping to achieve could have a major impact on battery usage across the globe — from the cost and efficiency of electric vehicles to the capacity of renewable energy to substitute fossil fuels.
“This is a platform technology,” Ota states. “We’re not only a high-reliability and low-cost operator. This is what we are now, but we could be competitive using next-generation chemical technology. We can utilize any chemical on the market, without switching the supply chain. Many startups are attempting to solve this issue in the future but not today. Our technology can tackle the issue now and in the future.”
A simplified design
Chiang, who is the MIT’s Kyocera Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Chiang, who is the Kyocera Professor of Materials Science and Technology at MIT,got his first insight of massive battery production when he co-founded another battery business, A123 Systems, in 2001. A123 Systems was getting ready to go public in the latter part of in the year 2000, Chiang was thinking about whether it was possible to design an electric battery that was simpler to make.
“I got this window into what battery manufacturing looked like, and what struck me was that even though we pulled it off, it was an incredibly complicated manufacturing process,” Chiang mentions. “It derived from magnetic tape manufacturing that was adapted to batteries in the late 1980s.”
In his laboratory at MIT in the lab of MIT, where he’s an instructor since 1985, Chiang began from scratch with an entirely new kind of device, which he named”a “semi-solid flow battery” that transports liquids containing electrodes made of particle between tanks and back to store charges.
In the year 2010 Chiang collaborated in 2010 with W. Craig Carter, who is the MIT’s POSCO Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and both professors worked with an undergraduate student named Mihai Duduta , ’11 who was researching flow batteries for his bachelor’s thesis. Within a matter of months, Duduta had developed a prototype in Chiang’s lab and 24M was established. (Duduta was the first employee.)
However, even as the company worked in conjunction with the MIT’s Technology Licensing Office (TLO) to commercialize research carried out in Chiang’s lab at the firm, including Duduta started to rethink the idea of a flow battery. A cost analysis conducted internally by Carter who was a consultant on behalf of 24M for a number of years eventually led the researchers to alter their direction.
This left the company with an abundance of the gooey slurry, which was the electrodes used in the flow battery. After a few weeks of the cost study of Carter, Duduta the then senior research scientist at 24M was inspired to use the slurry to make batteries manually mixing the electrodes that were gooey in the electrolyte directly. The company embraced the idea.
The primary elements of batteries comprise the positively negative and positively charged electrodes as well as the electrolyte substance that allows the ions to move between them. The most common lithium-ion batteries are made of solid electrodes that are separated from electrolyte via layers of inert plastics as well as metals, which keep the electrodes in their place.
Eliminating the inert components of conventional batteries and embracing the gooey electrode mix offers 24M’s design several advantages.
It also eliminates the lengthy and energy-intensive process of drying, then making the electrodes solid in the traditional process of lithium-ion production. The company claims it cuts down on the requirement for over 80 percent of inactive components in traditional batteries, which includes expensive materials like aluminum and copper. It also doesn’t require a binder, and has extra-thick electrodes that increase the energy density of batteries.
“When you start a company, the smart thing to do is to revisit all of your assumptions and ask what is the best way to accomplish your objectives, which in our case was simply-manufactured, low-cost batteries,” Chiang states. “We decided our real value was in making a lithium-ion suspension that was electrochemically active from the beginning, with electrolyte in it, and you just use the electrolyte as the processing solvent.”
In 2017 24M took part in the Industrial Liaison Program at MIT’s STEX25 Startup Accelerator, in which Chiang and colleagues established crucial contacts with the industry that helped to establish early partnerships. 24M has also worked in conjunction with MIT researchers on projects that were funded from the Department of Energy.
The battery revolution can be enabled
The majority of 24M’s partners are looking at the fast-growing electric car (EV) demand for its batteries. In addition, the founders are confident that their technology will help accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles. (Battery cost is 30 % to 40% of the cost of EVs as per The Institute for Energy Research).
“Lithium-ion batteries have made huge improvements over the years, but even Elon Musk says we need some breakthrough technology,” Ota states referring Elon Musk, the chief executive of the EV firm Tesla. “To make EVs more common, we need a production cost breakthrough; we can’t just rely on cost reduction through scaling because we already make a lot of batteries today.”
24M is also attempting to test new battery chemistry that its partners can swiftly integrate to their gigafactories. In the month of January 24M was awarded an award through the Department of Energy’s ARPA E program to design and build the production of a high-energy density battery which utilizes the lithium metal anode and semi-solid cathode that can be used for electric aircraft.
The project is just one of many in the world that are created to test and validate new battery chemistry based on lithium that may lead to a long-sought battery revolution. While 24M continues to encourage the development of large-scale manufacturing lines across the globe they believe that it is in a good position to translate the lab’s innovations into widespread revolutionary products that will change the world.