Last week, the Japanese multinational Panasonic Corporation announced that will invest 4 billion dollars in a new battery plant for electric cars, to be built in Kansas (US) with the aim of supplying the Tesla car company, one of its main customers. The plant will contain a research center to develop a new generation of batteries that charge faster and last longer at the same size. Panasonic is one of several companies developing these new systems, which could be ready for the market in a few years and are essential for the transition from heat-engine vehicles to electric motors.
Batteries are a key component of electric vehicles and are also among their most expensive components. At current prices, which have also increased due to the raw materials crisis that followed the pandemic, they alone constitute up to a third of the total cost of production. With the rapid expansion of demand, car companies can count on a limited number of large battery suppliers, almost all of whom are Asian companies, which is why, in recent years, major companies in this sector such as Volkswagen, Ford and Stellants have made huge investments to reduce their dependence on third parties and in the same Time improve the efficiency of batteries.
Those who can offer them faster charging with greater autonomy will have more advantages in the market, but improving batteries is not easy and goes against the physical and sometimes economic limits that are not indifferent. Realizing hundreds of companies and startups that have dedicated themselves in recent years, especially in the United States, to research and development to find new solutions. Investment funds have poured billions of dollars into this sector, bet on the most promising companies, and that the right recipe for batteries can become very rich in a relatively short time, but the energy and financial markets crisis in recent months has complicated matters greatly.
QuantumscapeOne of the Californian companies that has received significant funding in recent years, it had a market capitalization of about $54 billion when it went public in 2020, while today it is worth about $4 billion. How a report The The New York TimesFinancial difficulties have not slowed down the company’s activities, and it is confident that within two years the production of a new generation of batteries will begin. More Dense and Efficient Thanks to the new way in which ‘cells’, the constituent elements, are organized, and isolated from each other, QuantumScape batteries will be tested first by some car companies, who will later evaluate whether to use them on their cars.
Among the company’s investors are Volkswagen, a German company that intends to invest heavily in electric cars and at short notice, but also Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who is committed to financing technologies that can help mitigate the effects of global impacts. Warming (heat engines are among the main causes of carbon dioxide emissions).
Besides investments in overseas companies, Volkswagen in early July has confirmed It wants to invest 20 billion euros to build electric cars, and create Power Co, a subsidiary that will have to manage the procurement of raw materials and various production activities. The new company will also conduct research and development in the battery sector, which will then be built in six new plants that Volkswagen plans to build in Europe by the end of 2030.
Among the many companies in the sector, QuantumScape is among the most promising especially for a new technology developed to better isolate some components of batteries, using a new ceramic material whose recipe is a naturally industrial secret. It allows you to use a solid instead of a liquid to manage the passage of electric current between the positive and negative electrodes of the batteries. This solution, discovered by many other manufacturers with different materials, makes the battery much denser and therefore able to store more energy per kilogram than the systems currently in use.
In some ways, industry experts view QuantumScape as a rehearsal for the new generation of electric car batteries. The first production cycle will allow its reliability to be tested outside of laboratories, as it is not always possible to reproduce all real-world variables. Batteries are more or less efficient as the ambient temperature changes, for example, but other conditions such as high humidity and air composition can affect the performance of some of their components. Numerous charge and discharge cycles also affect cell life, decreasing battery performance and reliability over time.
Many managers and engineers working in this sector, especially in the United States, have previous experience within Tesla, Elon Musk’s company that first bet with great conviction on electric cars, which encouraged competing automakers to develop alternative heat systems to traditional engines. The gradual crowding of startups, especially in the United States, in recent years has left many Tesla employees leaving Musk, looking elsewhere for better paying jobs and above all with attractive prospects on the research and development front.
Always The New York Times Gives the example of Gene Berdichevsky, CEO of silaA California company that designs battery systems of all kinds, not just for electric cars. Born in the then-Soviet Union, Berdishevsky moved to the United States at the age of nine with his parents, both expert nuclear submarine engineers, and graduated from Stanford University, one of America’s most prestigious universities, then joined Tesla to become a champion of evolution. Batteries for the first car models manufactured by the company.
Berdichevsky left Tesla in 2008 and began working on a project that would later become Sila, his current company. Sila does not manufacture batteries directly, but sells a new material based on silicone powder to improve The batteries are largely efficient, without the need for major conversion work in existing factories that mostly produce lithium-ion batteries.
simplify a lot (Here is a more comprehensive explanation), most current batteries operate by passing lithium atoms into cells. The passage of current occurs because each atom is ionized (hence the name “lithium ion”), that is, positively charged, because it lacks an electron. During the charging phase, lithium ions collect from one part of the battery (the anode); When a battery is used for example to run a motor, the ions move to the other side (the cathode) making it possible to transfer energy. This process is of course much more complicated than that, and is made possible thanks to the material from which the anode, cathode and other components of the battery are made.
The anode is always made of graphite, but Sella has experimented with a way to replace it with silicon, which can accommodate more ions in a smaller space. Thus the battery is more efficient and lasts longer. Similar systems have been developed by other companies, which face many difficulties, from the tendency of silicon batteries to swell when charged, to the point of compromising their stability. In some cases, it took more than ten years of research to find the right silicone powder recipe to reduce this effect.
Sila recently entered into a deal with Mercedes-Benz, which will use silicon in batteries starting in 2025, but only in a select group of high-end cars.
Other auto companies such as Honda, Hyundai, General Motors, Chinese and Korean companies have invested SES AI, a company that was founded about a year ago and intends to produce batteries starting with some of the technologies developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States. It has already opened a factory in Shanghai, China, where it began manufacturing the first prototype of high-efficiency batteries. If the tests on the first models are successful, the company will start supplying batteries to its partners starting in 2025.
Overall, the sector is in full swing and according to analysts it will face some natural selection in the coming years, with many startups failing to bear costs or failing to develop new solutions. Companies funded by major automakers are likely to have a better chance of surviving with rising demand and growing push from governments to switch to electric motors.
Well-known manufacturers, such as Panasonic, which sells millions of batteries each year, realize that competition will become increasingly fierce, and therefore are investing heavily in research and development. In its new factory in Kansas, as in other laboratories, the Japanese company finishes perfecting New batteries “4680”, larger than its predecessors and above all with new measures to make it more efficient. Production will start next year and Tesla will be the main beneficiary.
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