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Report: Bosch buying solid-state Li-ion battery company Seeo

Quartz today reported that Bosch has agreed to acquire Berkeley Lab solid-state Li-ion battery spinoff Seeo. Seeo’s cell design couples a solid lithium metal anode with a conventional porous lithium iron phosphate cathode and Seeo’s nanostructured solid polymer electrolyte (“DryLite”). The electrolyte is entirely solid-state with no flammable or volatile components.

In January 2015, Seeo was awarded a contract for technology assessment from the United States Advanced Battery Consortium LLC (USABC), a collaborative organization of FCA US LLC, Ford Motor Company and General Motors. Under the contract, Seeo will deliver its DryLyte battery modules to USABC for testing under a 9-month assessment program. These modules are based on Seeo’s current cell technology, which provides an energy density of 220 Wh/kg. (Earlier post.)

Bosch won’t be releasing the terms of the deal, according to the Quartz report. Bosch has acquired all of Seeo’s intellectual property plus its research staff.

Lithium metal is an ideal anode material for rechargeable Li batteries. It offers an extremely high theoretical specific capacity (3,860 mAh g−1); low density (0.534 g cm−3); and the lowest negative electrochemical potential (−3.040 vs standard hydrogen electrode). Unfortunately, using Li as an anode in rechargeable Li batteries faces severe challenges, including dendritic​Li growth and limited Columbic efficiency (CE) during repeated Li deposition/stripping processes. (Earlier post.)

One potential solution for addressing the problems facing Li metal anodes in rechargeable batteries is the use of a solid-state electrolyte rather than a liquid electrolyte. Solid-state electrolytes offer excellent electrochemical stability, favorable mechanical properties, and operation over a wide temperature window. They preclude the safety and performance issues associated with dendritic growth. However, ionic conductivity can be significantly lower than that of a liquid electrolyte. As a result, a great deal of research is investigating the development of high ionic conductivity solid-state electrolytes for next-generation rechargeable Li batteries. (Earlier post.)

One approach to a solid-state electrolyte is the use of a solid polymer. This can also be problematic, as the core requirements of a solid-state electrolyte for use with a Li metal anode—i.e., high ionic conductivity and mechanical ruggedness—tend to call for different types of polymers. The property of conductivity calls for a softer material, while strength calls for a harder material. Unfortunately, hard polymers tend to be nonconductive.

Researchers at Berkeley Lab developed copolymers comprising both hard and soft blocks—in other words, using block copolymers to combine mechanical stability with ionic conductivity.

Founded in 2007 by Berkeley Lab researchers Nitash Balsara, Hany Eitouni, and Mohit Singh, Seeo has an exclusive license to the solid-state electrolyte technology developed at the Lab.

The basic material featured 50-nanometer channels composed of a softer polymer laced with lithium salts encased in a hard polymer matrix. Lithium dendrites that spawn from the Li metal anode are some 20 times as large as the soft polymer channels; i.e., the dendrites are too large to force their way into the material.

The weakest link in terms of safety and stability of Li-ion batteries is the organic liquid electrolyte that facilitates ionic transport between the electrodes. The continuous electrochemical degradation of the electrolyte at the electrodes causes poor cycle life of the batteries, and in some cases, runaway reactions that lead to explosions.

Dry polymer electrolytes coupled to Li-metal anodes had been considered a high energy alternative to liquid-based systems, as the solid-solid interface promised to alleviate the stability problems of the liquid electrolyte. However, repeated cycling of Li metal anodes leads to dendrite formation, reducing battery life and compromising safety. Recent theoretical work indicates that dendrite growth can be stopped if the shear modulus of current polymer electrolytes can be increased by three orders of magnitude without a significant decrease in ionic conductivity. Thus, the mechanical properties of polymer electrolytes are particularly important in rechargeable solid-state lithium batteries.

Because ion transport in polymers is coupled to the motion of the molecules that are solvating the ions, the presence of mobile molecules is essential to allow for a conductive medium. However, the same mobility of molecules is detrimental to the polymer’s structural integrity. There is, thus, a clear need to develop methodologies for decoupling the conductive and mechanical properties of polymer electrolytes. Electrolytes comprised of self-assembled block-copolymer nanostructures overcome this principal constraint.

—Eitouni (2011)

Seeo now has Seeo has more than 40 issued, exclusively licensed and pending patent applications on the technology. Seeo currently offers a range of products based on its technology, including:

  • DryLyte Battery 1.6 kWh Modules. Constructed from the Seeo DryLyte 10Ah cell (220 Wh/kg at the cell level), the DryLyte Battery 1.6 kWh Module is available in a 160V/10Ah configuration.

  • DryLyte Automotive Pack. Employing the 1.6 kWh modules as the basic building block, the automotive pack is scalable in voltage and capacity, and can be configured to meet a variety of requirements. Pack level energy density is 130 Wh/kg.

In December 2014, Seeo closed its largest funding round up to that time, adding Samsung Ventures Investment Corporation to its investor roster. (Earlier post.) At that time, Seeo said that it had cells in development cycling with an energy density of 350 Wh/kg, with a future target of 400 Wh/kg.

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Comments

Lad

USABC should be investigated to see if they have ever accomplished anything or ever offered a product. I'm afraid they have been funded for a long time, since 1993, with Government money and no oversight from Congress. My understanding is this was suppose to be R and D money to develop advanced batteries by the Big Three. Looks more like a give-away program to American car makers. Wonder how much tax money is lost on these type setups.

Perhaps, I'm wrong and I hope so...prove it!

HarveyD

Isn't USABC supposed to slow down battery development in order to extend the useful life of ICEs as long as possible?

Bosch's deeper pockets could help to accelerate the commercial development and mass production of higher performance SS batteries?

Lad

HarveyD:
Seems that way; frankly, I think the fate of BEVs is in the hands of Tesla and their battery company since that's what's driving the market and I believe both political parties are under the control of big oil Super Pacs. Tesla is going to need a lot of time and money to turn around the auto industry.

Nissan looked good out of the box with all that Government money backing them up; but, they have been disappointing with their lack of progress and it's been five years with essentially no movement. In fact the Leaf forum reflects that; it's mute from all the inactivity from Nissan. Nissan maybe offering an upgraded battery with an increase of 4 to 6 kwhs for extra money this year....Big Wow!

Big Oil is winning the battle so far, especially with the decrease in fuel prices and their friends, the Republicans, in Congress.

electric-car-insider.com

One of the reasons I am so optimistic about electric cars is that the economic reward for the breakthrough battery comes not just from auto OEMs (not) but from consumer electronic OEMs whose market potential far exceeds automobiles. Also, the military is now dependent on portable electronic gear. Just no way to keep the genie in the bottle.

Tesla has conclusively demonstrated that consumer cells can be used for automotive applications. Handwriting is on the wall.

Lad

E-C-I: Forgive my pessimistic nature; but, I hate to see the opposition, which is for the continuation of the current maladies, successfully slowing down progress of the cures. I certainly hope you are right.

Account Deleted

Interesting discussion. To get some numbers on it about 11 GWh of batteries will be made for plug-in autos globally in 2015. I think the consumer electronics market, laptops smart phones etc is about 20 Gwh in 2015 but this market is not growing strongly anymore (laptops and tables are actually falling and smart phones are no longer growing at over 20% pro anno). So when Tesla is fully operational with their 50Gwh factory in 2020 the market for auto batteries will be much larger than for consumer electronics. I also think the market for battery backup will explode after 2020 because of Tesla's low prices in this area and because low cost solar power will drive the demand for it.

I am not optimistic about the auto industry's willingness and ability to make good long-range BEVs. Only Tesla seems to have the will and ability in that regard but they are starting from scratch so it will take decades to become a 10 million cars per year automaker.

However, I am optimistic we will see autonomous cars in commercial taxi services sometime between 2020 and 2025 because literally everybody in the industry is investing a lot in making this technology happen. This is not limited to a single startup like Tesla. Everybody is on the self driving wagon so it will happen sooner rather than later. When those autonomous Taxi's are made they will catalyst the spread of BEVs because BEVs have far less operating cost and capital cost than gassers per mile driven when used in an autonomous taxi setting doing 100,000 miles per year.

electric-car-insider.com

I agree that grid storage will be a big market, but the requirements are much different than batteries that need to be carried in your hand, on your wrist, on your back. Right now, Tesla is making a market for a big factory to ensure their investment partners don't get cold feet. I believe it will be a successful business. But if Ambri or a flow battery or a similar approach succeeds, the large scale stationary market will be almost certainly choose a solution that can cycle tens of thousands of times. A battery that does not need to be small and light but can be very cheap will have a decisive advantage. A different end of the scale than the battery on your wrist or in your ear. Per Wh, most people will be willing to pay dearly for that breakthrough battery.

And when it comes, it will enable a whole new class of devices that we only see hints of now.
It happens every time there is a 2x better battery.

What you will see before autonomous cars is a generation of massively connected cars. Those will have advantages and use cases very few people are anticipating. But it will also be a profoundly disruptive technology.

yoatmon

Every car manufacturer is in the precarious situation of ruining himself by going electric. This also applies to every sub contractor delivering to the MFGR.
The maintenance of a BEV tends to nil. Most of the profits from ICEs originate from maintenance, repair, and overhaul. Going electric is certainly going to increase the ranks of unemployment. Neither MFGRs nor governments are keen on these perspectives. I'm quite content being employed in electric engineering so my personal perspectives are less effected from such perspectives.
TESLA has nothing to lose, they can only win including consumers and the environment.
The total switch to BEVs is not only a challenging technical task but even more so an immense social burden.

Account Deleted

Eci I also think that connected vehicles will be standard pretty soon on all new cars. Tesla already has it (of cause) and use it for providing real time traffic information as Tesla's backend system collect anonymous (hopefully) position and speeding information on all Tesla's driving around allowing other Tesla owners to avoid congested roads. As a Tesla owner I know you know. That is useful and the more Teslas that are out there collecting this information and uploading it to Tesla's datacenter the better and more accurate it becomes.

Another connected feature that Tesla has is the route planning system showing in real time which Tesla chargers that are relevant for the planned route and currently working. That is also useful and time saving.

However, when the autonomous cars come this interconnection will go to a whole new level. Google is currently using a lidar system on their autonomous test cars that map the environment in 3D collecting 1,000,000 data points per second. They plan to upload this information frequently in real time to Google's datacenter so that it always has an up to date 3D mapping of the environment. This is potentially terabytes of data per car per day. Tesla is rumored to work on similar technology. Tesla needs the high resolution mapping for their autonomous driving and it needs to be updated frequently to adjust for construction work etc. Letting the autonomous cars produce these maps using their sensors and high speed internet connections is a no brainer.


About the type of batteries used for back-up systems and electric cars they may not be that different. True that Tesla currently use a low cycle life, high energy density battery for their cars and they will be mostly selling high-cycle life, low energy density batteries for their backup systems. However, there are many synergies in the mass production of these batteries that may be identical by form factor (18650) and in terms of most of the machinery that makes them apart from using different chemicals and separator films. Also when the autonomous technology is ready I bet you will use the low cycle life, high energy density battery for cars that are intended for private ownership (long-range BEVs). However, the high-cycle life, low energy density batteries can be used for short-range self-driving taxies as they do not have a range issues that cannot be solved by switching taxi during the ride. So for public autonomous taxies the batteries will be identical in every aspect as the backup batteries. Durability will be roughly 10,000 cycles times 100 miles range so 1,000,000 miles. For privately owned autonomous cars the equation is more like 330 miles time 3000 cycles so also 1,000,000 miles. Such privately owned cars will be for the wealthy and they can be used to pick up kids and family etc so they will be operated more than the usual 16000 miles per year. They will also drive around empty much of the time because they need to pick up people at different places and at different times. That will make some people angry in a congested place and we may need some legislation to prevent driving empty at peak traffic hours.

@yoatmon
Agree, I would not advise any young person to do an engineering degree in combustion engine related technology. They will not be in demand 20 years down the road and it could get really hard to find any new jobs in this area 10 years from now.

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