Gridtential, Partners Chasing Li-ion Battery Alternative

Article By : Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio

Li-ion batteries have some drawbacks, yet recent progress made in the use of new materials paves the way for alternatives to be able to unlock the known limits.

The world is constantly looking for energy solutions that are not only efficient but also clean and sustainable, using recyclable materials. In this scenario, batteries play an essential role in supporting the transition to full electrification of the transportation sector. Companies operating in the battery industry are constantly looking for chemistries that can increase energy density, reduce cost and weight, and extend the cycle life of involved materials.

Although lithium-ion today represents technology capable of providing the highest energy density, it is expected that this type of solution will reach its limits within a few years. Moreover, Li-ion batteries have some drawbacks, linked above all to significant costs (both of production and disposal), aging, and precautions to be followed in the charging, transportation, and storage process.

However, recent progress made in the use of new materials for the manufacture of batteries paves the way for alternative solutions able to unlock the known limits.

Battery technology

Unlike most of today’s new battery technologies, which promise improved performance but are far away from reaching mass production, Gridtential Energy developed a battery technology that integrates solar-wafer-current collectors into stack-and-seal lead battery forms. The main advantage of this patented absorbed glass mat (AGM) battery technology, named Silicon Joule, is it can be readily produced in today’s existing factories. Because factories’ major retooling takes a long time and is expensive, many other technologies are simply not compatible with affordable mass production in a reasonable time.

Addressing the requirements of energy storage applications, Gridtential’s Silicon Joule technology reduces weight and boosts power performance of conventional lead batteries, proposing itself as a valid alternative to Li-ion batteries. Moreover, it increases cycle life, power density, and discharge rate to resemble some lithium chemistries.

“Our technology is taking silicon and using it as a high-performance material to improve conventional batteries,” said Gridtential CEO John Barton. “We prefer to address the traditional battery market because we can leverage a global distribution, low-cost manufacturing and recycling network from all of the existing battery companies, and a very mature supply chain from the solar industry.”

The different elements that make up a 24-V battery using Silicon Joule technology are visible in Figure 1.

Figure 1: A 24-V lead battery based on Silicon Joule technology (Source: Gridtential)

A big step toward mass production

Gridtential recently saddled up with battery component manufacturers Hammond Group and Wirtz Manufacturing to launch the production of biplate electrodes for Silicon Joule batteries. The aim of this collaboration is to develop, pilot, and produce ready-made components and equipment for makers of advanced lead batteries employing Silicon Joule bipole solutions, accelerating the time to market for next-generation silicon batteries.

Hammond Group brings 90 years of experience serving the world’s battery industry, providing lead-acid chemistry for advanced energy storage applications like renewable energy and automotive electrification. On the other side, Wirtz Manufacturing has over 80 years of industry experience in battery manufacturing, ranging from standalone pieces of equipment to complete turnkey lead-acid-battery manufacturing facility design, installation, and training.

Gridtential CEO John Barton visited a Milford, Utah, wind farm in 2015. He recently partnered with Hammond Group, which provides lead-acid chemistry for advanced energy storage applications like renewable energy. (Source: John Barton)

According to Gridtential, the development of a novel battery technology, such as Silicon Joule, is divided into three phases. First, you need to develop the fundamental material. Next, you have to work with battery companies to be able to build the new technology. Finally, you need to ready the supply chain, allowing end users to start to see the benefits of the technology and pull the demand from the suppliers.

“You’ve seen in this business some other people raising billions of dollars to build their own electrode assembly facility,” Barton said. “We’ve chosen to do it with people who already are in this industry. In our particular case, Hammond is a well-known company offering performance additives for the traditional battery space, whereas Wirtz Manufacturing is well known on the equipment side for being able to do the deposition of active material.”

Therefore, the announced partnership will be a way to fulfill the supply of electrodes for battery makers, combining time-consuming steps and saving the production cost of stacking and adding active materials.

Silicon Joule technology addresses the demand coming from different industries, such as the broad transportation market, backup power market (including data center and telecom), and energy storage system (ESS) applications. A reliable, cost-effective, and scalable backup battery system is required by cloud computing, telecom, and other important industries (see Figure 2). These sectors now have a dependable and ecological solution to reduce costs and boost reliability thanks to Silicon Joule batteries, which last up to 4× longer than a typical lead battery.

Figure 2: Silicon Joule technology can be used in reserve power systems. (Source: Gridtential)

The characteristics and the amount of the active material help to determine the performance attributes of the battery. A thicker active material is intended for more capacity and longer storage. It can have slower charge and discharge capabilities but is more suitable for an energy, or “deep cycle,” battery that would be appropriate for the ESS market. Other customers, such as those operating in the automotive and transportation industry, are more interested in something that can deliver power and that can be charged quickly, both through full charging and dynamic charging.

“We’re not seeing our product as a replacement for a main propulsion battery for EVs; however, in smaller EVs like golf carts or the e-rickshaws you commonly see in Asia, it could become the propulsion battery due to its high performance and longer life,” Barton said.

Because the solar industry’s wafer production is about 35 billion units per year, Gridtential believes that its raw material will be available at a very high scale very quickly. Additionally, both in the U.S. and in Europe, the lead battery industry is fairly regulated, leading to one of the most successfully recycled products.

“In North America, 80% of the lead used for making batteries comes from old batteries, so the recycling stream is extremely efficient,” said Barton. “Due to using 35% less lead in each battery, we can deliver up to 50% more batteries using recycled material.”

Many people think that the lead battery technology is so mature that it’s already at the edge of its performance. Actually, a traditional lead-based battery utilizes approximately only 30% to 40% of active material, whereas Li-ion batteries reach the use of active materials of up to 90% to 95%.

“We see a huge opportunity to double, or more than double, the utilization of the active material within a traditional battery, and we believe that by starting with superior material and a superior design, we’re enabling that future,” Barton said.

 

This article was originally published on EE Times.

Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio has a Ph.D. in Physics and is a Telecommunications Engineer. He has worked on various international projects in the field of gravitational waves research designing a thermal compensation system, x-ray microbeams, and space technologies for communications and motor control. Since 2007, he has collaborated with several Italian and English blogs and magazines as a technical writer, specializing in electronics and technology. From 2015 to 2018, he was the editor-in-chief of Firmware and Elettronica Open Source. Maurizio enjoys writing and telling stories about Power Electronics, Wide Bandgap Semiconductors, Automotive, IoT, Digital, Energy, and Quantum. Maurizio is currently editor-in-chief of Power Electronics News and EEWeb, and European Correspondent of EE Times. He is the host of PowerUP, a podcast about power electronics. He has contributed to a number of technical and scientific articles as well as a couple of Springer books on energy harvesting and data acquisition and control systems.

 

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