Batteries can account for half of an electric vehicle’s costs. As such, the dream of affordable electric cars, with a driving range equivalent to their gas-powered brethren, will not be achieved until the cost per kilowatt equation is dramatically reduced.
Fortunately, several innovative companies are developing fundamental technologies which will enable batteries that are cheaper, more powerful, longer lasting and safer than anything currently on the market. Along with companies such as Sila Nanotechnologies and Ionic Materials an emerging star in this rapidly evolving segment of the clean energy revolution is Coreshell Technologies.
Founded in 2017 by technologists with experience commercializing frontier technologies, Coreshell’s unique solution integrates seamlessly with battery manufactures’ complex and exacting production lines. This frictionless introduction into battery facilities has accelerated Coreshell’s market adoption, enabling it to partner with some of the world’s largest players.
John Greathouse: Jonathan and Roger, thanks for making the time to chat. I realize the science underlying Coreshell is deep and complex, but in layperson terms, what is “electrode surface instability” and how does Coreshell address this issue? (Note: I’m an Advisory Partner at Entrada Ventures, one of Coreshell’s early investors. Jonathan and Roger’s remarks have been lightly edited for brevity and readability.)
Roger Basu: Great to connect. Essentially, every time you use your battery, you’re creating a layer of degradation inside the battery. That’s what causes your battery to start dying much faster over time. This layer forms on the surface of the anode and cathode (electrodes). We always use the analogy of a rust-like layer. The problem is that this “rust” continues to grow every time you charge or discharge your battery. With our technology, we can prevent this layer from forming. The analogy we use is that we’re “painting” the inside of your battery with our unique nanolayer coating.
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Greathouse: OK – running with your rust analogy, your technology is akin to spraying the inside of a battery with a microlayer of rustoleum.
What was the genesis of the science behind Coreshell? Was the technology developed in a research setting that you later applied to battery degradation or did you set out to solve the problem at the outset?
Jonathan Tan: We started Coreshell because we realized that the cost and capacity of batteries are becoming the bottleneck in clean energy and transportation. As Roger talked about, to tackle this problem, we’re solving the fundamental degradation problem in both state-of-the art and next-gen lithium-ion batteries with our unique nanolayer coating technology. Our mission has been to use this innovation to lower the cost and increase the energy for battery manufacturers and sustainability-minded auto makers. It was the combination of both the science and the mission that drove us to start the company.
Basu: What makes us unique is our ability to dramatically improve energy density, safety, and cost per kilowatt-hour by up to fifty percent, while replacing one of the biggest bottlenecks in Gigafactory battery plants with a single, low-cost coating tool. No one else has shown the ability to create a nanometer-precise coating using a liquid-deposition process that allows for scalability – that’s not been possible before.
Through our previous experience, we happened to have a significant background in both thin-film deposition from solution-phase and electrochemistry / lithium-ion devices, so the core technical concept came from the combination of these past experiences.
Greathouse: You’ve both mentioned the term “bottleneck.” What does this mean in the context of EV (electric vehicle) battery production?
Tan: A major part of the puzzle is the cost of electric vehicles, which are way too expensive for average households. Batteries are thirty-five to fifty percent of the total cost of an EV – by far the most expensive item in the bill of materials. So, by enabling a lower-cost and higher energy dense battery, we can transform the electric vehicle market from a luxury item to something that’s democratized for everyone to afford.
As an example, Tesla has remained a leader in EVs in large part because of their leadership in battery technology and manufacturing. However, to reach the next levels of electric vehicle and battery production, major innovations in materials and manufacturing are still needed and that’s where Coreshell will be a key, enabling technology.
Greathouse: So, Coreshell’s technology will drive down the cost of EVs, while increasing battery capacity. What’s not to like?
Given the power of your value prop, what deals have you cut so far and to what extent is your technology in the market?
Tan: Our goal is to deliver a drop-in solution for battery producers. To do this, we’ve been working with major stakeholders along the entire battery production value chain. With BASF, we’ve demonstrated that our coatings can significantly improve their state-of-the-art cathode materials. We’re also working with tier-one battery manufacturers and automakers who are trying to overcome their battery cost and capacity limitations.
Basu: The exciting thing is we’ve been able to demonstrate dramatic improvements, such as a thirty percent improvement in energy density by raising voltage limits, as well as the ability to debottleneck some major manufacturing steps. We’re doing this while improving the safety of lithium-ion batteries, which is a combination that not many can claim.
Greathouse: In what ways are you impacting battery safety? Are treated batteries less likely to catch fire?
Basu: Exactly, by coating the inside of the battery, we can mitigate the initial degradation reactions that start the thermal runaway process and can lead to catastrophic fires.
Greathouse: Through its Gigafactory, Tesla has invested heavily in improving battery performance. Yet, the company was heavily criticized coming out of Battery Day – were the haters justified?
Basu: After watching Tesla’s Battery Day, we felt like what they announced was potentially really powerful. The thing that surprised us was the negative response from the public and general media afterwards. The fact that Tesla’s stock fell five points after telling the world that they are going to scale to three terawatt-hours of battery production while halving the cost per kilowatt-hour of batteries in the next five years was pretty remarkable.
Tan: Reading many of the responses that were published, it seemed that a lot of folks were expecting revolutionary advanced chemistries – like a single crystal cathode, which was the big rumor. I think it goes to show something that’s been trending for a while in the battery landscape: the hype surrounding novel battery chemistries which have only been demonstrated in tightly controlled lab environments often overshadows the truly meaningful innovations that can reduce battery costs at scale and accelerate clean energy adoption in the next five-to-ten years.
This is something that Coreshell has believed since we first started the company in 2017, way before Battery Day. For an innovation to make a fundamental difference in the battery market, it must be easily integrated into the rapidly scaling manufacturing landscape. We’re at a tipping point for battery production and the industry is not going to pause its scaling to reinvent the wheel for a completely disruptive chemistry.
Basu: It reminds me a lot of the industry I used to work for – Solar. In the early 2000’s lots of disruptive technologies were trying to overtake traditional silicon solar, but then everyone quickly realized that the solar market was already taking off faster than people predicted due to a combination of design and manufacturing innovations.
Greathouse: Ironic for Tesla to be punished for not hyping an emerging technology…
What battery innovations are on the horizon – do you think single crystal cathode technology will be imminently commercialized? I assume your technology is agnostic as to which advances eventually win in the market, or are there some advancements that would cause you to revise your approach?
Tan: The two major innovations we see are first, energy density improvements on the anode and cathode. Here, Coreshell’s coatings can be the key enabler for novel electrode chemistries that often sacrifice cycle lifetime for initial capacity. Also, we’re chemistry agnostic so we have the ability to solve critical issues regardless of the market direction. Second, on the manufacturing scale, it’s about being able to produce as many cells in as small amount of space as capital efficient as possible. These developments should get the world to a place where electric vehicles are at cost parody with combustion engines.
Greathouse: What innovations can we expect from Coreshell over the next five years… do you foresee remaining on the licensing path or do you envision a time when you produce your own batteries?
Basu: The next five years for us is all about scaling our technology and using our roll-to-roll processing tool to demonstrate to battery manufacturers and end-users how effective our coatings can be in enabling fast production of high-energy, low-cost batteries.
Tan: We’re excited to be launching our initial partnerships now and are in conversation with many of the leading stakeholders in the battery and auto industries. Getting our technology into the hands of major producers is our main goal. However, in the meantime, we also have an opportunity to produce our own batteries and introduce them in some lower spec applications like electric scooters, which is also a growing market that we’re excited about.
This next five years aren’t only critical for us, but we’re entering into the “era of the battery” across the industry. It’s an exciting step towards sustainable zero-emission transportation and energy storage that’s no longer just a luxury item and can be affordable for everyone. That’s the world we dreamt of when we first began Coreshell.
You can follow John on Twitter: @johngreathouse.