As consumers increasingly consider making their next car purchase electric, two major trade-offs are stalling the transition from gasoline-powered vehicles. Electric-car range remains limited and recharging the battery can take from 45 minutes to several hours.
Manufacturers have been trying to boost the battery’s chemical “density” so an electric car can travel farther on a charge. The latest high-end electric vehicles from Tesla, Chevrolet and others now have a range of up to 300 miles under optimal conditions.
But recharging is still slow. Israeli startup StoreDot hopes to jumpstart the electric vehicle revolution by addressing this second trade-off.
A StoreDot Flash Battery can be filled to capacity in just five minutes, providing the same 300 miles of range. That makes it no less cumbersome than driving a gasoline-powered car, Doron Meyersdorf, the company’s cofounder and CEO, tells ISRAEL21c.
StoreDot’s batteries can be built in the same form as regular electric batteries, using the same basic material – lithium –which should lead to easier adoption. But StoreDot replaces the graphite used by all other electric battery manufacturers with a mix of metalloids including silicon and proprietary organic compounds synthesized in its labs.
This not only improves charging time but also safety. Heating graphite is “what made batteries explode in Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7,” Meyersdorf notes, and in 2013 several of Tesla’s Model S cars caught fire.
“It’s a known problem and the reason why all such batteries are charged slowly. And it’s also why our technology is garnering such interest.”
“Interest” might be an understatement. Last year, StoreDot scored major votes of confidence from two strategic partners – a $20 million investment from BP Ventures (the multinational oil and gas company sees an electric future and hopes ultimately to convert its 18,000 gas stations to electric charge stations, Meyersdorf says); and EVE Energy, a Shenzhen-listed manufacturer of lithium batteries, which intends to manufacture StoreDot batteries in China.
The BP and Shenzhen agreements come on top of a $62 million funding round in 2017 led by German car giant Daimler AG, which like EVE involves a strategic partnership for manufacturing batteries based on StoreDot’s design. Tokyo-headquartered TDK Corporation joined that round and also announced that it was setting up a strategic partnership “to commercialize StoreDot’s battery technology as early as 2019.”
Planning to manufacture in the US
StoreDot has raised $130 million so far. The company has a staff of 105, all in Israel. The company’s name comes from the tiny bio-organic peptide molecules known as “nanodots” that allow for rapid absorption and storage of power.
Meyersdorf says the company will need upwards of $400 million to develop its own battery manufacturing plant – to be called One Giga – in the United States no later than 2022.
Won’t StoreDot’s One Giga compete with Tesla’s Gigafactory battery factory plans? Yes, and that’s a good thing: If demand continues to grow and new plants aren’t opened, the world will soon run out of lithium-based electric batteries, Meyersdorf predicts.
“Each electric car has the equivalent of 5,000 to 7,000 smartphone batteries in it,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “If you only look at the two million cars produced in 2018, that’s some 10 billion phone batteries.” (The total number of electric cars on the road in 2018 was 3 million, according to the International Energy Agency.)
“We need to build 100 or so giga-factories in the next several years. We don’t want to be in a situation where we have great technology but don’t have the partners or the capacity to meet the demand.”
StoreDot isn’t the only company racing towards building a better battery. But most of the competing next-generation designs are based on “solid state” – that is, replacing the liquid in the battery with solids. Ionic Materials is one of the most hyped of these companies, backed by Sun Microsystems cofounder Bill Joy and with investment from Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors. Another firm, Solid Power, has teamed up with BMW for its solid-state solution. Toyota is working on yet another version of solid state batteries.
StoreDot is experimenting with solid state, too, Meyersdorf admits. “But it will take another seven to 10 years before any solid-state battery hits the market and then it will only provide longer range, not faster charge.”
Charge your phone in less than a minute
While StoreDot’s ultimate aim is to disrupt the EV battery market, it’s starting with mobile devices and power banks, which Meyersdorf hopes to see coming to market as early as the end of 2019. A StoreDot-powered cell phone battery could charge up for the day in 30-60 seconds.
What StoreDot learns from the engineering and supply-chain challenges for these smaller “Gen 1” devices, Meyersdorf says, will make the company that much smarter as it moves toward bigger “Gen 2” batteries for electric cars.
Moreover, there are still technical hurdles to overcome before Gen 2 can be realized. “For ultra-fast charging using very high electrical current, we need better support for the cooling of the cable and connectors inside the car and at the charging station,” he says.
StoreDot already saw that building out this technology was going to be a long process. The company burst onto the tech scene in 2012 with a breathless focus on both cell phones and electric vehicles, only to go quiet for several years.
“It was a shift in our strategy,” Meyersdorf explains. Fast charging of phones, drones and toys, he realized, was “a nice feature, but for EVs, it’s a market maker. So in 2016, we pivoted.”
When they do arrive, Meyersdorf claims that StoreDot’s Flash Batteries will not only be faster to charge, they’ll be better for the planet – and for people, too.
“We use only half the amount of cobalt of existing electric batteries,” Meyersdorf tells ISRAEL21c. That’s important, given that 60 percent of the world’s cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, much of it through child labor.
StoreDot’s process for mixing its proprietary materials is also less toxic than other battery manufacturing, Meyersdorf adds.
That said, this is “not a fully green battery,” he concedes. “It still uses lithium and in terms of recycling and disposal, the issues are the same.”
StoreDot’s Flash Batteries have one other big plus: they don’t degrade as you charge them over and over. For current electric car owners who have seen the range of their vehicles decrease over time, or for mobile users whose aging devices run out of juice after just a few hours, this might be the feature that pushes StoreDot to the front of a crowded space.
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