NOVI, MI – Dow Energy Materials is about to enter the lithium-ion battery fray as a producer of four materials essential to pack production.
David Klanecky, senior business director, says the startup, based in Midland, MI, will produce cathodes, anodes, electrolytes and separators.
The company is to begin operation by month’s end and initially will employ about 20-25 workers, but commercial production will launch at a later date, the executive says.
“Those components are absolutely critical to determining the performance of a battery cell, as well as the cost, because those four alone account for 75% of the material costs going into a battery,” he tells WardsAuto here.
DEM’s coated-cathode materials will increase the energy density of Li-ion batteries, an area that has impeded development of long-range electric vehicles.
Improved electrolytes and anodes also will drive efficiency and charge/discharge rates, he says, noting the startup’s electrolytes will improve the battery’s cycle life and enhance energy and power density.
“We’ve been focused on energy-density and cycle-life because longer-lasting materials drive the cost of the overall system down,” Klanecky says. “And with higher energy density you get more kilowatt hours out of your battery.”
Although not yet in production, the materials, both bare and coated, could be used to produce Li-ion batteries that provide a 20% boost in energy density, he says.
The significant increase is the product of DEM research into just the first generation of materials. Going forward, the materials supplier expects further improvements.
“As you look at performance, the industry is demanding that over the next 5-10 years you’re going to have to double the energy density and improve the cycle life by probably a factor of two as well,” he says.
In addition to improved energy density and charge/discharge rates, the materials will drive down cost. Battery makers, Klanecky says, are constantly seeking ways to keep costs in line.
“Cell manufacturers look at the overall cost of a cell and want to know how much it is going to cost per kilowatt hour,” he says. “We’re doing everything we can to drive that down.”
DEM forecasts significant demand for Li-ion batteries from the automotive sector, rising from a $1.3 billion industry today to $23.0 billion in 2020.
The supplier also is targeting industries outside automotive, including energy-supply companies and defense contractors.
“As we get certain performance attributes to these materials, then we start to look at the application space and try to dive in and see if this is a good fit,” Klanecky says. “The key thing is understanding performance requirements, and as we develop these materials we can dictate where they go.”
Regionally, DEM plans to offer its materials wherever there is demand. While the initial startup will be in Midland, the company is open to expanding operations.
China, in particular, is a potential growth market for Li-ion batteries, and DEM currently has employees there.
“We have a lot of people on the ground, and they’re meeting with the cell manufacturers over there and understanding what the demand requirements are,” he says. “We’re going to be in China and we’re making sure we have the ability to supply.”
While DEM’s materials are dedicated to Li-ion batteries, other chemistries hold promise, including phosphate-based and lithium-air.
Lithium-air batteries, although in early stages of development, are said to have 11 times the energy density of Li-ion.
Varying chemistries likely will play a role in DEM’s business strategy. The supplier divides its future materials-development plans into “horizons.”
Horizon 1 materials are to be offered within the next year, while Horizon 2 is in the two- to three-year range.
Horizon 3 is in five-plus years, when battery-energy density most likely becomes on par with gasoline, which packs far more energy on a volume basis than even the most advanced Li-ion batteries.
“We’re an order of magnitude away right now, but as we look out we think we could match the energy density of (gasoline),” he says. “That’s the plan, that’s what people have in their minds.”