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Solid-state battery: “electrification of everything” is the new trend – An interview with Ampcera Inc.

Today, the leading market drivers for developing a battery are the emission control regulations (especially for the automotive sector), which are driving the trends towards vehicle fleet electrification. Even though customers are showing an increased interest in electric vehicles (EVs), there are still concerns regarding EVs’ short driving range, long charging time, and battery safety. To resolve these issues, industrial players have focused on solid-state batteries, aiming for a next-generation battery with higher energy density, faster charging capability, lower cost, and greater safety. Over the last few years, Yole Développement (Yole) has seen a growing number of research and development activities in solid-state batteries. However, the product development of a solid-state battery is still nascent.

Many solid-state battery developers are planning to commercialize their batteries by 2025, which will undoubtedly be an important milestone for electric vehicles.

As shown in the Solid-State Batteries 2021 report from Yole Développement (Yole), the commercial introduction of solid-state batteries will start in 2025, with mass production of solid-state-battery-equipped vehicles starting around 2030. Solid-state battery demand will represent less than 2.5 GWh in 2027.

Solid-state battery development is dominated by start-up companies. The main focus is the development of solid-state electrolyte technology. Today, Shalu Agarwal, Ph.D., Technology & Market Analyst at Yole, interviews Sumin (Sam) Zhu, Ph.D., Co-founder and CEO at Ampcera Inc, one of the key solid-state electrolyte developers, to learn more about their products and expertise and gain a deeper understanding of future trends for solid-state batteries.

Shalu Agarwal (SA): Please introduce yourself and your company? 

Sumin Zhu (SZ): My name is Sumin Zhu. I am the CEO of Ampcera Inc. Based in the U.S., Ampcera is an innovator and global market leader in developing and commercializing engineered solid-state electrolytes for advanced lithium batteries. Ampcera has more than 200 paying customers and development partners from all over the world, including some of the major automotive OEMs, battery makers and industrial companies.

SA: What are the benefits of solid-state batteries compared to conventional lithium-ion batteries?

SZ: Solid-state batteries offer the benefits of higher energy density, intrinsic safety, ultra-fast charging capability, and lower cost at volume production when compared to conventional lithium-ion batteries.

Ampcera’s all-ceramic dense solid-state electrolyte separator sheets (25 um thickness, 50mm x 100mm size, flexible and defect free, room temperature ionic conductivity ~1 mA/cm) – Courtesy of Ampcera, 2021

SA: What is the added value of Ampcera’s technology compared to existing solutions? 

SZ: Ampcera’s solid-state electrolyte technology includes three key focus areas:

  • Proprietary patent-pending engineered materials
  • Revolutionary scalable manufacturing processes
  • Technology for integrating solid-state electrolyte in solid-state batteries.

Ampcera’s technology can solve the critical problems that are impeding the commercialization of solid-state batteries, such as the lithium dendrite problem, slow charging rate, and high cost. Ampcera’s engineered solid-state electrolyte separator is formed in only a few seconds and is ready for integration into solid-state batteries. In contrast, conventional solid-state electrolyte separators may take many hours to manufacture.

The manufacturing process developed by Ampcera can also eliminate more than 50% of the capital investment and production costs in battery manufacturing. Both the performance and cost advantages of Ampcera’s technology enable Ampcera to develop and introduce its solid-state electrolyte and battery technology to the market faster and at a significantly lower cost than existing solid-state battery solutions.

Ampcera ultra-fine engineered sulfide solid-state electrolyte powder (D50 < 1um, room temperature ionic conductivity >5 mS/cm, stable with Lithium metal anode and cathode active materials) – Courtesdy of Ampcera, 2021

SA: Research on solid-state batteries is currently very active. What is the status of solid-state battery adoption?

SZ: Solid-state batteries have been adopted in some applications, such as electric buses and micro-batteries. Performance and cost are two of the main barriers to broader adoption. Many major automotive OEMs have announced their technology roadmap for adopting solid-state batteries between 2025 and 2030 in their electric vehicles.  Therefore, the overall market trend is very encouraging for the mass adoption of solid-state batteries.  Whichever company that can successfully introduce a high-performance and low-cost solid-state battery to the market quickly will be the winner in the transformation of the global electric vehicle and energy storage markets.

SZ: What are the main applications of solid-state batteries? What is the status of solid-state batteries for each application? Any challenges?

SZ: The main application for solid-state batteries is electric vehicles due to the size of the battery needed for each vehicle.  Many major automotive OEMs have announced their technology roadmap for adopting solid-state batteries in their electric vehicles in the next 5 to 10 years. Before adoption in electric cars, solid-state batteries will find applications in other niche markets where there is a demand for superior performance at a premium cost. For example, these applications may include electric aircrafts, drones, wearables, medical devices, high-temperature batteries used in extreme environments, etc.  As with many other new technologies, the cost of solid-state batteries will initially be a barrier to adoption. With the development of low-cost and scalable manufacturing methods, the cost of solid-state batteries will drop significantly as the production volume increases. This is why Ampcera has been focusing on the development and commercialization of superior performance and significantly lower cost solid-state electrolyte, which is the key of solid-state batteries.

SA: How will a solid-state battery impact the automotive industry in the long term?
Could you please detail the major trends?

SZ: Solid-state batteries can act as a catalyst for the accelerated adoption of electric vehicles thanks to the benefits they will offer: longer range, ultra-fast charging, intrinsic safety, and lower cost than conventional fossil fuel cars. The conventional lithium-ion battery chemistry is reaching its theoretical limit, and it is becoming extremely difficult, if not impossible, to improve its performance significantly. By contrast, solid-state batteries offer a step change in performance, safety, and cost saving. In the automotive industry, future competition will depend on which companies have advantages in battery technology and battery cost. Electrification is a major trend. Shifting from a conventional lithium-ion battery to a solid-state battery is becoming another significant trend that has been confirmed with recent announcements from several major automotive OEMs. 

SA: Do you target other market segments than automotive? Could you please describe your offerings and related market segments?

SZ: In addition to the automotive market segment, Ampcera also works with customers in several other segments, such as consumer electronics, government applications, and specialty industrial applications.

Ampcera offers its products and solutions in three categories: engineered solid-state electrolytes, revolutionary processes for the formation of solid-state electrolyte separator in solid-state batteries, and the novel architectures of solid-state batteries based on Ampcera’s core solid-state electrolyte technology. Depending on the requirements for each application, Ampcera’s solid-state electrolyte technology (including both materials and manufacturing processes) can be tailored to meet the needs for making the corresponding solid-state batteries.

Ampcera engineered sulfide solid-state electrolyte powder measured with 5 mS/cm ionic conductivity at room temperature – Courtesy of Ampcera, 2021

SA: What are the most challenging technical aspects regarding the mass production of solid-state batteries?

SZ: Due to the limitations on size and yield, traditional methods used to produce solid-state batteries, such as tape casting, are not suitable for the mass production of solid-state batteries, in particular, for larger format cells used in electric vehicles.  On the other hand, adding binders to the solid-state electrolyte significantly compromises the performance of solid-state batteries. The revolutionary new solid-state electrolyte technology developed by Ampcera is well suited for the mass production of solid-state batteries to address both the scalability and performance challenges faced by solid-state batteries.

SA: Anything to add for our readers? 

SZ: The “electrification of everything” is a new megatrend. However, for the most part, batteries are the biggest bottleneck. As we move toward batteries that offer increased energy density and safety as well as lower cost, electricity will undoubtedly reach new products and new markets.


Interviewee

Sumin Zhu is CEO & Co-Founder of Ampcera Inc. Sumin Zhu received PhD in materials science and engineering (ceramics) from Missouri University of Science and Technology in 2008. He also completed the MBA-level strategic marketing program from Cornell University. In his professional career, he worked at several publicly traded multi-national companies in various roles in R&D, manufacturing, product development, marketing and sales, and business management. Sumin and his cofounders started Ampcera Inc. with the mission to commercialize high performance engineered solid-state electrolytes and accelerate the development of solid-state batteries with high energy density, fast charging, intrinsic safety, and lower cost.

Interviewer

Shalu Agarwal, Ph.D. is Power Electronics and Materials Analyst at Yole Développement (Yole), within the Power & Wireless division. Based in Seoul, Shalu is involved in the development of technology & market reports as well as the production of custom consulting studies. Shalu has more than 10 years’ experience in Electronic Material Chemistry. Before joining Yole, she worked as a project manager and research professor in the field of electronic materials, batteries, and inorganic chemistry. Shalu Agarwal received her master’s and Ph.D. in Chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee (India).

Related report

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