Sila: silicon anode battery breakthrough?

Sila Nanotechnologies was founded in Silicon Valley in 2011, to develop smaller and denser batteries, using silicon-comprising nano-particles in the battery anodes. Thus it claims to have made “the biggest battery breakthrough in 30-years”.

The technology is already starting to be used in wearable devices (e.g., the Whoop 4.0 fitness wearable) with 17% higher energy density and 33% smaller devices. A partnership with BMW was secured in 2018, and with Daimler in 2019, aiming to use silicon-anode technology in electric vehicles by 2025.

Overall, our patent review did support some further de-risking of silicon anode LIBs. We found several innovations that may hang together, although the specific breakthroughs, their intelligibility and the company’s overall focus are the biggest areas to explore further. Details in the data-file.

Cobalt: leading producers?

Our global decarbonization models effectively burn through the world’s entirely terrestrial cobalt resources (data file here), mostly in EV batteries, making it one of the most crucial materials for an energy transition (data file here).

Hence this data-file reviews c25 mines around the world, and the resultant positions of 25 global cobalt producers. In each case, we tabulate the mine’s output, ore grade, processing technique and ownership details.

Two-thirds of global supply currently comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, as a by-product of copper production, where the Katangan copper belt which has unique, stratiform sediment-hosted Copper-Cobalt ores.

The remainder is co-produced with nickel, in countries such as Australia, Canada, Cuba, Finland, Madagascar, Philippines, PNG, Russia, et al.

Full details are in the data-file, including our notes from an excellent, recent technical paper.

Electric vehicles versus ICEs, hybrids and hydrogen?

This data-file tabulates the CO2 intensity of producing and charging lithium ion batteries for automotive use, split across 10 different components, informed by the technical literature. Producing the average EV battery emits 9T of CO2 (chart below).

Electric Vehicles should nevertheless have c50% lower emissions than gasoline vehicles over their entire useful lives, assuming equivalent mileages. Although we see gasoline vehicles’ fuel economies improving.

Manufacturing EVs has an energy deficit, which means the ascent of EVs could increase net fossil fuel demand all the way out to 2037 (note here).

This data-file can be used to calculate the crossover point, which comes after around 3.5 years and c50,000 miles (chart above). The numbers will vary as a function of grid composition, technical improvements and vehicle specifications.

Electric trucks: what battery sizes?

This data-file models the possible battery sizes in a fully electric semi-truck. Lithium ion batteries up to 15 tons are considered, which could deliver 2,500 miles of range, comparable to a diesel truck.

However, large batteries above c8-tons in size detracts around 10% from the fuel economy of electric trucks, and may cause trucks to exceed regulatory weight limits, lowering their payload capacities.

4-6 ton batteries with 700-1000km ranges and 5-8% energy penalties may be best, and would likely add $110-170k of cost at 2020 battery costs. 

Our roadmap to decarbonize trucking most prefers carbon-offset diesel, then hybridization with super-capacitors, then electric semi-trucks, and least prefers hydrogen trucks.

Electric vehicle charging: the economics?

This data-file models the economics of electric vehicle chargers. First, we disaggregate costs of different charger types across materials, electronic components, labor, permitting, fees, opex and maintenance (below).

Next we model what fees need to be charged by the charging stations (in c/kWh) in order to earn 10% IRRs.

Economics are most favorable where they can lead to incremental retail purchases and for larger, faster chargers.

Economics are least favorable around multi-family apartments, charging at work and for slower charging speeds.

Smart Energy: technology leaders?

Smart meters and smart devices are capable of transmitting and receiving real-time data and instructions. They open up new ways of optimizing energy efficiency, peak demand, appliances and costs. Over 100M smart meters and thermostats had been installed in the United States (including at c90M residences) and 250M have been installed in Europe by 2020.

The purpose of this data-file is to profile c40 companies commercializing opportunities in smart energy monitoring, smart metering and smart thermostats. The majority are privately owned, at the venture or growth stage. We also tabulate their patent filings.

We find most of the offerings will lower end energy demand (by an average of 7%), assist with smoothing grid-volatility, provide appliance-by-appliance demand disaggregations and encourage consumers to upgrade inefficient or potentially even defective appliances. Numbers are tabulated in the data-file to quantify each of these effects.

Lithium ion batteries for electric vehicles: what challenges?

This data-file tabulates the greatest challenges for lithium ion batteries in electric vehicles, which have been cited in 2020’s patent literature. Specifically, the work contains a sample of 100 patents aiming to overcome these challenges, as filed by companies including Tesla, CATL, GM, GS Yuasa, LG, Nissan, Panasonic, Sanyo, Sumitomo, Toyota, et al.

Our notes and conclusions are spelled out in detail. We find the industry is clearly entering execution mode, and less focused on radical breakthroughs in energy density. CATL and Tesla’s pursuit of a “million mile battery” is substantiated, but includes trade-offs. The patent disclosures also suggest great difficulties in ever achieving a battery-powered semi-truck.

Vehicle costs: cars, SUVs, hybrids, EVs and hydrogen?

This data-file quantifies the cost per mile of vehicle ownership for different categories of vehicles. Our methodology looks across the prices of 1,200 second hand vehicles, to correlate how the re-sale value of each make and model degrades per mile that has accumulated on its odometer (chart above).

Hybrids and basic passenger cars are most economical. Trucks and SUVs are 2x more costly. EVs are another 25% more costly again, and will have lost c60% of their value after 100,000 miles. Hydrogen cars have the highest costs and will have lost over 90% of their value after 100,000 miles (chart below).

Underlying data are shown in the input tab across ten makes and models, to see how the re-sale value of each vehicle degrades with mileage. This may help you appraise what a particular second hand purchase “should” cost (example below) if you are among the many non-drivers considering a vehicle purchase as a result of the COVID crisis.


Tesla: where’s the IP?

This data-file compiles all of Tesla’s patents, classifies them across 1,000 patent families, and describes their innovations.

Our conclusion is that Tesla holds less patented IP than rival auto-companies. However, where it has filed patents, it is more focused on pure EV technologies, such as batteries, electric circuitry, electric propulsion and digital features (chart above).

Patent filings since 2019 have focused on big data/digital technologies, solar and improved batteries (including novel electrolyte systems using lithium fluorates, borates and other improved additives).

Leading Companies in Battery Recycling?

This data-file tracks over 6,000 patents filed into battery recycling technology, focusing in on 1,800+ post-2010, Western-filed patents. This matters as annual battery disposal requirements will ramp up to over 250kTpa over the next decade.  Hence the pace of patent developement has been escalating at a 15% CAGR.

18 technology leaders are profiled ex-China, based on their patent filings and public disclosures. We tabulate the size, likely battery recycling revenues and recent commercial progress.

The leaders include 6 larger-cap listed companies (two in Japan, two in the US, one in Korea, one in Europe) and 10 private companies, including some exciting, early-stage concepts to improve material recovery and costs.

The final tabs of the file include all of the patents, with summaries, and our notes from recent technical papers.

Copyright: Thunder Said Energy, 2022.