Electric vehicle range, as well as the high cost, has been a major challenge to the EV market. EV manufacturers the world over are working to solve both these problems, seeking that golden egg that would push EV range to gas-powered levels while keeping costs down.
Swiss battery maker Innolith has claimed to do just this – hitting both issues with the same hammer. The company says it has developed a rechargeable battery that could extend electric vehicle range to 1,000+ kilometers (or 620 miles) – about twice as far as the best EVs today.
Is this just hype, like so many other so-called ‘game changing’ battery technologies, or is it the real thing?
Electric vehicle range could be shattered by Innolith
Innolith claims its lithium-ion batteries see an energy density of 1,000 watt-hours per kilogram, a measure of batteries’ ‘energy density’. One thousand watt-hours per kilogram is over 4 times the capacity of Tesla’s 2170 battery cells, which see 247 watt-hours per kilogram. The energy density in the Chevy Bolt’s batteries is even less, at 237 watt-hours/kg.
To say that Innolith’s claim is huge would be an understatement. It’s more like a long jump into batteries of the future, skipping a decade or two of painstaking R&D to incrementally increase lithium-ion battery density, one baby step at a time. With an energy density this high, Innolith says their batteries can keep an EV going for 620+ miles. The 2018 Tesla Model S 100D currently holds the world record for highest range, at 335 miles. So Innolith’s battery can go twice as far as the world’s best performing EV.
More than that, the benefit of ultra-high energy density is actually two-fold. As we’ve seen, it would allow us to increase the range of EVs well beyond what we currently see. Secondly, high-density batteries would also allow us to cut battery sizes in half and still see the same range, saving weight and reducing vehicle cost – something EVs desperately need to compete with their gas-powered brethren.
In an interview with the Verge, Innolith Chairman Alan Greenshields said,
“It’s a big jump… It’s roughly three times what is generally accepted as being the next improvement in lithium. And it’s two times the energy density target [that] organizations like the US Department of Energy have set. So this is a big deal.”
What’s under the hood of Innolith batteries?
All EV batteries – including Innolith’s – are based around ‘wet’ lithium-ion batteries, which use a liquid electrolyte to conduct electricity. If you’ve ever sloshed around a car battery, you’ve heard the electrolyte liquid inside (though it’s likely a lead-acid battery, not lithium-ion).
So what sets Innolith batteries apart? All lithium-ion batteries on the market today use organic electrolytes that are very unstable and can become dangerous if any issues arise. Innolith, on the other hand, uses a more stable inorganic electrolyte. Chairman Greenshields explains it as such:
“We take the organic materials out and replace them with inorganic or basically salt-like materials, and that does two things for you. One is it gets rid of your fire risk, so, of course, there’s nothing to burn. And the second part is you’ve also got rid of the most reactive components in the system, which makes it easier to build a battery where you can pack in a lot of energy without the thing becoming unstable.”
The fact that Innolith’s battery is so stable is key to its energy density. With such a safe, stable foundation, the company can push their batteries’ performance past the limits of what’s currently on the market.
In their marketing material, Innolith focuses in on the safety aspects of the battery. The battery doesn’t include any caustic organic solvent as the electrolyte and so simply lacks the materials that can lead to fiery situations. Additional safety, of course, is never a bad thing, but how often do we really hear about EV batteries catching fire? The real draw to Innolith’s batteries is the increased range and the potential cost savings, as those are the two major cruxes to greater EV adoption.
On top of the high energy density and safety, Innolith says its lithium-ion batteries also see incredibly high cycle life. The company says its internal chemistry has been proven to last 55,000 cycles when completely discharging the battery. Tesla doesn’t release the cycle life of its batteries, but most estimate it around 1,000 cycles at full depth of discharge. So the Innolith battery’s cycle life – supposedly – is 55x longer than the cycle life of Tesla’s batteries.
So when’s it available?
As with any promised battery technology, it’s probably best to not hold your breath. Battery start-ups are constantly touting that their revolutionary new products will change the energy paradigm, but then they come and go like the wind. Battery development is an expensive endeavor and bankruptcy isn’t unheard of. On top of that, major breakthroughs in the lab sometimes simply don’t work in the real world, stalling once-promising technologies.
However, Innolith is far ahead of many of these young battery upstarts, as their product actually is already in use. US grid operator PJM (which controls wholesale electricity in the northeast US) has used Innolith batteries for over a year to test the technology. On top of that, Innolith’s founders aren’t starting from scratch. They’re actually the former owners of Aleva – a now-bankrupt battery start-up – and brought over the company’s 20+ years of battery R&D to Innolith.
In the press release announcing the its battery, Chairman Greenshields said,
“This new breakthrough has been made possible by years of dedicated research into all aspects of inorganic electrolytes and their application to rechargeable batteries. It all fell into place in 2018 from an R&D perspective, with several extraordinary breakthroughs.”
Innolith says it’ll look for manufacturing partners after completing a pilot program in Germany, and commercialization will likely take three to five years.
Boots-on-the-ground testing with one of the US’ major grid operators is certainly a good sign that the battery isn’t just another laboratory breakthrough, but a real-world option for the future. However, we’ll need to wait until these pilot programs are complete and Innolith gives their tech over for third-party verification. If their claims are true though, we could be seeing EVs that not only compete with gas-powered vehicles in terms of range and cost, but actually outdoing them – all far earlier than anyone ever expected.
Image Source: CC license via Flickr