Porsche invests $400 million in Group14 Technologies, Silicon Batteries

The battery breakthroughs that will make the EV revolution possible are coming from places you’ve never heard of. You know about QuantumScape and StoreDot, but what about Group14 Technologies? This is a company that says it has found a way to make battery anodes using silicon.

Why is this a big deal? Because silicon anodes can store more energy than graphite electrodes. Higher energy density means faster charging, longer range and lower costs. There must be something to what Group14 is doing because Porsche just invested $400 million in the company. This will be used to build a new factory in downtown Washington that will produce enough silicon carbide anodes to power 600,000 electric cars a year. It is expected to enter into operation by the end of 2023.

Others are working on silicon anodes, but say they are years away from commercial production. Rick Luebbe, Co-Founder and CEO of Group14, explains Canary Media his company expects the first silicon-anode batteries to be installed in electric cars as early as next year.

“Silicon batteries are here,” he says. “The technology is proven. Now it’s about scaling to meet demand.” He is delighted with the new investment from Porsche. “They are recognized as one of the technology leaders in the automotive industry. We are really excited about this confirmation from the Porsche team.”

Silicon has one drawback that has stymied researchers until now. It expands and contracts as the battery charges and discharges. These fluctuations can damage the battery. The trick for companies, including Group14, is to harness silicon’s energy capacity while minimizing the damage it causes.

Group14’s recipe, called SCC55, uses a ​”solid carbon-based scaffold” to keep that silicon ​”in the most ideal form—amorphous, nano-sized, and encased in carbon,” according to the company’s website. In other words, the silicon sits in a miniature scaffold structure where it has room to expand and contract without weakening the anode structure, Lubbe explained.

The company calls the process it uses to make the carbon scaffold Dryrolysis. It says it is “both an incredibly efficient and environmentally friendly approach to synthesizing carbon to create the perfect carbon scaffold. Highly scalable, this new approach eliminates the need for solvent by combining dry polymerization with heat treatment. This platform provides the ideal carbon scaffold for a silicon-carbon composite—ideal for holding nano-sized amorphous silicon. The important thing is that the ‘dry crisis’ takes place in one step and in one reactor.”

Once the scaffold is made, the next step is called “Siligenesis”. This is how Group14 makes the silicon anode material. “By creating both silicon and tuned internal voids within the carbon scaffold, this new approach uses a non-exotic precursor that converts to silicon within the porous carbon scaffold. In addition to providing the ideal silicon shape, Siligenesis also supports the expansion and contraction of silicon within the remaining voids of the composite inside the particles, further enhancing the electrochemical performance.”

Achieving an ideal anode requires years of complex laboratory science. Group14 grew out of a company called EnerG2, which focused on nano-engineered synthetic carbons. This parent company was sold to BASF and then Group14 was spun off in 2015 to apply this technological approach to silicon anodes.

Group 14 has no silicon anode field to itself. Sila Nanotechnologies has raised several hundred million dollars for similar research, and Sionic Energy makes a silicon anode and a co-optimized electrolyte. Its battery technology is first used in drones, but it expects the anodes to be used in vehicles by the middle of the decade.

“We will be the first in electric cars,” Luebe said. “But it will take many actors to transform an industry.” He declined to name which car model would be the first to bring silicon anodes to market, but said Porsche’s investment comes with a commitment to start producing lithium -silicon batteries for its cars in 2024. And, of course, Porsche is part of the Volkswagen Group, so everything it knows, the other members of the group know.

Although everyone is crazy about solid state batteries, silicon anodes have one huge market advantage. They can be released into the lithium-ion battery manufacturing process with minor changes to the manufacturing process. Solid-state batteries could make billions of dollars worth of existing manufacturing infrastructure obsolete.

Battery breakthrough stories abound, but few are backed by a $400 million bet from a major automaker.

 

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