GM advances Ultium lithium-metal battery
Partners with SES for longer range, lower cost EV batteries Metal Tech News – March 17, 2021
Last updated 3/23/2021 at 5:10pm
In its push to get "everybody in" on its transition to electric vehicles, General Motors is working closely with SolidEnergy Systems to accelerate the development of a next-generation Ultium battery to power safer, more affordable, and longer-range GM EVs.
This coming iteration of the Ultium battery is expected to be lithium-metal, which promises to have twice the energy density, charge faster, and last longer than the state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries currently powering EVs.
"Affordability and range are two major barriers to mass EV adoption," said General Motors President Mark Reuss. "With this next-generation Ultium chemistry, we believe we're on the cusp of a once-in-a-generation improvement in energy density and cost. There's even more room to improve in both categories, and we intend to innovate faster than any other company in this space."
To accomplish this, the company is working with leading battery tech companies like SolidEnergy Systems.
More commonly referred to today as SES, SolidEnergy Systems was formed as a spinout from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012 to continue advancing "anode-free" lithium metal battery technology invented by Qichao Hu while at MIT.
Hu's strategy in developing and improving this battery technology did not begin on the materials side of the battery equation. Instead, the SES founder and CEO started by considering what is needed on the consumer end and worked his way back toward a battery to meet those needs and finally the materials that would go into it.
"The world doesn't care if the cell is solid or liquid, ceramics or polymer, silicon or graphite, lithium or magnesium. What the world wants is a cell that has significantly higher energy density, longer cycle life, better safety, lower cost, and more robust performance," Hu penned in a paper about SES and its battery technology.
And overcoming some of the previous longevity hurdles of the technology, SES has developed a lithium-metal battery that is safer while packing more power into a smaller space.
With an "ultra-thin lithium metal" anode and nickel-cobalt-manganese cathode, the SES battery has a 400 to 500 watt-hour per kilogram capacity, which is roughly twice the storage capacity to weight ratio of a standard graphite anode lithium-ion battery currently powering EVs. When it comes to space required, the SES lithium metal battery has more than 1,000 Wh per liter capacity, compared to about 600 Wh/l for graphite lithium-ion.
In addition to nearly doubling the range with a battery pack of the same dimensions, an SES battery can be charged to 80% capacity in just 15 minutes. In practical terms, after nearly seven hours of highway travel at 65 miles per hour, a traveler would need to take a 15-minute recharge break to travel another 350 miles.
General Motors has had its eye on lithium-metal battery technology for a few years now. GM Ventures, which invests in start-ups developing technology to be implemented in General Motors' vehicles, invested in SES back in 2015.
Under a new joint development agreement, GM and SES plan to build a manufacturing prototyping line that is expected to deliver affordability, high performance, longer range, and quicker charging times to GM's Ultium platform, a battery and electric drive system that is the foundation for GM's next-generation EV lineup.
GM says the prototype Ultium lithium-metal batteries have already completed 150,000 simulated test miles at research and development labs at the company's Global Technical Center in Michigan, demonstrating real-world potential.
High-capacity, pre-production batteries under the GM-SES partnership are expected to roll off a manufacturing prototyping line in Massachusetts by 2023.