June 4, 2020: Amara Raja Batteries, the Indian battery giant announced on June 1 that it had entered into a formal technology evaluation agreement with Gridtential Energy to assemble and test Gridtential’s silicon joule bipolar reference batteries.
“This will use Amara Raja’s active material to determine improvements in cycle life, energy density, battery efficiency, charging rates and manufacturability, says John Barton, CEO of Gridtential.
Jayadev Galla, vice chairman of Amara Raja said: “We are always interested in exploring new advanced products. The unique silicon joule bipolar technology from Gridtential holds significant potential to deliver enhanced value to our customers. Samudrala Vijayanand, the firm’s CEO said: “We look forward to seeing the results our teams can achieve working together on realizing more of the performance potential of lead-based batteries.”
Many commentators believe that bipolar batteries could be key to opening up new vistas of business for the lead energy storage industry given the huge leaps of performance possible in terms of extended cycle life and greater power for less weight.
The two leading contenders in the race to advance the bipolar business is Gridtential, based in Santa Clara, California and Advanced Battery Concepts working from Clare, Michigan.
Bipolar batteries have a long history of showing enormous potential but fabrication in scale has been very difficult to crack.
The key question Barton is addressing is what he calls ‘industrialization’ — put simply taking a technology that works on the work bench and moving it to the production line.
Both Barton and his head of operations and strategy Doug Wilson believe their combined decades of experience in the manufacturing and engineering of silicon wafers are being brought to bear on Gridtential’s product.
“The semi-conductor business is one of the most rapidly evolving industries in the world, we’ve had to create manufacturing processes for products that are developing so fast that previous iterations are obsolete within a couple of years,” Barton told BESB.
“Over the past 18 months we have made tremendous progress in simplifying the bipolar battery development processes, making it possible to build initial batteries in a partner facility within a few weeks and with commercial production possible in a 12-18 month timeframe. The bipole material is available in scale through a solar wafer supply chain which as an industry currently produces 25bn wafers per year.
He believes that the early trials by licensees is now paying off and that turnkey proposals are emerging. “Most of our partners are currently progressing with a combination of existing equipment which can support bipolar production complimented with modified special purpose tools,” he says.
“We have active conversations with battery companies as a few outside of the battery industry. The processes are straightforward from an equipment design perspective, but each supplier has a unique approach and value proposition to their design. The automation vendor status ranges from ‘still iterating’ to complete turn-key systems proposals.
“We have reference batteries in the hands of a number of OEMs and battery partners and all of our licensees are able to independently produce batteries. While we don’t comment on the status of our partner’s commercial launch plans, our own internal plans are for larger volume beta site OEM testing later this year.”
The evaluation program that Amara Raja and up to nine other disclosed and undisclosed battery firms is the pathway to signing a full licensee agreement and full commercialization of the product.
Barton says: “Our development onramp starts with an evaluation program. This consists of reference batteries, development kits and includes a limited non-commercial sale licence. Using our development kits, battery companies can build their own bipolar batteries with our platform and their active material after a few simple training sessions.
“We know from our years of product development that rapid iteration between experiments shortens learning cycles and reduces the product development timeline. The development kits assemble and tear-down with simple fasteners making analysis easy. So, the reference batteries can go under test immediately, while our partner’s internally built development kits and learning cycles proceed in parallel.”
Barton says the partners can pick the initial platform based on target application: whether for energy (stationary storage or back-up, LSEV, personal mobility, and industrial) or power (which addresses transportation applications such as 12V start-stop SLI or 48V for the mild hybrid automotive markets).
The evaluation program can be completed in three to six months depending on the partner resources allocated and performance targets, he says.
Gridtential says its bipolar battery can deliver two to five times longer life at 80% DOD, twice as much energy for the same weight and faster discharge times.