Interview with Doug Campbell, CEO, Solid Power
Solid Power is a world leader in the field of solid-state batteries, and it was our pleasure to interview them. Doug was very kind to give us all the information on Solid Power and its operations, and it is a fair bit of an eye-opener if you haven’t caught up with them before. Solid-state batteries are just one of many forms of batteries under heavy development at the moment, and we expect to be following their progress as they grow.
What is Solid Power’s story? Where did the idea come from and how was it born?
Solid Power was established in 2012 and was formally spun-out of the University of Colorado – Boulder in early 2014. Our early research focused on the reversibility (ability to recharge) of very high-energy-density, conversion-reaction cathodes. That reversibility was shown to be unique to solid-state electrolytes, and Solid Power’s identification of sulfide-type electrolytes as the most promising commercial avenue. Since then, we have ramped up our efforts, in part due to the massive adoption of electric vehicles, with NMC-based all-solid-state batteries (ASSBs) that provide a major improvement in safety and energy density compared to traditional Li-ion.
How was your funding sourced?
In 2018, we closed $20+ million in a Series A investment round. Series A investors included Ford, Hyundai CRADLE, Samsung Ventures, Sanoh, Solvay Ventures, and A123 Systems. We will begin our Series B investment round in 2020. Solid Power has also been fortunate to raise non-dilutive equity funding through both grants and industry contracts.
How large is the business at the moment? Where do you see it being in five years or so?
Solid Power has grown significantly as we continue to prove out the technology at relevant scales for automotive testing and early market introduction in areas like aerospace, defense, industrial, and medical applications. In five years, whether under Solid Power or via technology transfer, we expect to be preparing for automotive introduction, as well as have commercial applications in areas with decreased technical barriers to entry and market scale.
Who are Solid Power’s target consumers and what are the main communications messages to them?
Solid-state batteries have the potential to greatly impact a range of markets, including automotive, medical devices, defense, and more. Our target consumers include companies who lead those industries and the people who consume their products. We want our target audience to know that solid-state batteries – a safer, more powerful alternative to commonly-used lithium-ion batteries – will bolster the performance of the products they use every single day. Solid-state batteries have the potential to be faster-charging, longer-lasting, and safer than the Li-ion batteries that most of us use in battery-powered devices like cars and phones today.
What are the benefits of all-solid-state batteries compared to conventional lithium-ion batteries? Are there any downsides? Any limitations to where it can be integrated?
In terms of performance and safety, our battery technology makes two key improvements upon traditional Li-ion battery technology. First, we minimize risk by replacing flammable liquid electrolytes –most often the culprit behind battery fires – with a solid, inorganic electrolyte. Second, we maximize energy density by replacing the graphite anode with energy-dense lithium metal, which allows us to reduce battery mass and volume while simplifying the cell’s design. With these two improvements, Solid Power’s batteries will extend beyond the capacity of a common Li-ion battery while also reducing the risk of fire associated with the use of a liquid electrolyte.
Additionally, from a manufacturing perspective, producing our solid-state batteries on a large scale will be a more cost-effective and timely process than producing Li-ion batteries. Filling Li-ion batteries with liquid electrolytes requires three additional steps: electrolyte filling, degassing, and formation cycling. These three steps take up to three weeks to complete and comprise up to 29% of a Li-ion battery facility’s capital expenditures. Removing solid electrolytes from our battery model allows Solid Power to skip these costly stages of production and yields a faster, cheaper manufacturing process.
Solid Power’s team of world-class battery researchers and engineers are working to mitigate the downsides of solid-state batteries. For example, charging batteries that, like Solid Power’s, utilize a lithium metal anode at cold temperatures can ultimately damage the battery. Our team is addressing these challenges at lab-scale and is actively working to transition lab-scale improvements in charging rate capability and low-temperature performance to cells that are large enough to power electric vehicles.
Who do you see as your biggest competitors? How is the market looking at the moment? Batteries vs. fuel-cells?
Our greatest competitor at this point is the Li-ion battery, a functional product with a well-established hold on key markets, including automotive, healthcare, and more. However, leaders in those markets are seeking ways to reduce cost and improve performance and safety – areas in which solid-state batteries are extremely promising. Especially as demand for electric vehicles continues to increase, solid-state batteries have tremendous potential to disrupt the energy storage market over the course of the next decade.
At what stage is all-solid-state batteries development currently at? What has been the most challenging technological aspect? When are we going to see them hit the market?
Solid Power commissioned its pilot facility in August 2019. The facility is a proof of concept production line and will help us refine the processes required for mass-scale production. The goal of the pilot line is to get increasingly high quality and large-format (20+ Ah) batteries through better equipment and automated assembly to meet and exceed automotive standards. We expect that automotive market entry will be between 2025 and 2028.
Currently, one challenging technological aspect of ASSB development is working with lithium metal. Lithium metal offers a great increase in energy density, but comes with significant challenges such as fast-charging at lower temperatures. Solid Power is addressing this issue at a materials level as well as through engineering with the improvements we are seeing with our pilot line.
What is your vision of the future energy storage market? Are we barely scratching the surface?
The “electrification of everything” is a very real trend, and for the most part, batteries are the biggest bottleneck. As we move toward batteries that offer increased energy density and safety, as well as lower cost, electricity will undoubtedly reach new products and new markets. We envision an energy storage market that offers consumers optimal performance hand-in-hand with increased safety. Solid Power’s innovative technology has the potential to change the landscape of the battery-powered world, altering the way we think about and use products as ubiquitous as cell phones or as far-off as satellites.