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24M and partners awarded $3.5M from ARPA-E to develop ultra-high-energy density batteries with new lithium-metal anodes

As part of its new IONICS (Integration and Optimization of Novel Ion Conducting Solids) program awards (earlier post), the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) awarded $3.5 million in funding to a team that includes 24M, Sepion Technologies, Berkeley Lab, and Carnegie Mellon University. The funds will be used to develop novel membranes and lithium-metal anodes for the next generation of high-energy-density, low-cost batteries.

24M’s core technology is semi-solid lithium-ion, a new class of lithium-ion batteries that will be initially deployed in stationary storage. With this ARPA-E program, 24M and its partners will extend the capabilities of semi-solid electrodes to ultra-high-energy density cells that use lithium-metal anodes.

The semi-solid thick electrode is a material science innovation originating in Dr. Yet-Ming Chiang’s lab at MIT. (Dr. Chiang, one of the founders of A123 Systems, is a co-founder and chief scientist for 24M.) Conventional lithium-ion battery cells have a large fraction of inactive, non-charge carrying materials—supporting metals and plastics—that are layered, one-on-top of the other, within a cell’s casing. Those inactive materials are expensive and wasteful.

With the invention of the semisolid thick electrode, 24M eliminates more than 80% of these inactive materials and increases the active layer thickness over traditional lithium-ion by up to 5x.

24m   Tech_graphics_celldesign
Schematic of a 24M cell, from the patent. Click to enlarge.   24M cell compared to conventional Li-ion cell. Click to enlarge.

Using thick electrodes, the cell also stores more energy, bettering the performance of the battery as well as its cost. The materials design enables up to 5x the area capacity of standard Li-ion.

Sepion Technologies’ vision is to develop ultra-light, high-power density Li-sulfur batteries for aviation. The company has developed a microporous polymer membrane to replace incumbent separator materials. In addition to providing high-flux and ion-selective transport, Sepion’s polymer membranes are processable in large area formats at a fraction of the cost of ceramics.

Sepion Technologies’ core membrane technology was developed at Berkeley Lab by Peter Frischmann and his co-founder, Molecular Foundry Staff Scientist Brett Helms. Frischmann left his position at Berkeley Lab to found Sepion Technologies earlier this year. He and his team are users at the Molecular Foundry where they continue to develop their technology.

Sepion’s scalable and low-cost microporous polymer membrane size-sieves lithium ions from polysulfides, effectively extending the cycle life of Li-S cells. Click to enlarge.

Lithium metal is recognized as an enabler of high-energy density in rechargeable batteries, but has heretofore not been sufficiently stable for aggressive long-life applications. 24M and its partners have identified a new approach to stabilizing the lithium-metal anode, which, when combined with the inherent cost advantages of semi-solid lithium-ion technology, can realize the energy-density promise of lithium metal, safely and at low cost.

24M and team will use nano-composite organic-inorganic protective layers to enable reversible lithium metal electrodes and low-cost, high-energy batteries based on those electrodes. The team’s core innovation takes advantage of the interfaces between the polymer and inorganic components to provide the necessary dendrite-blocking ability of ceramic-based conductors while still being highly conductive and manufacturable using traditional roll-to-roll processes.

The ARPA-E IONICS program seeks to advance storage technologies by focusing on the parts of the electrochemical cell that conduct ions and concentrates on solid materials because of the potential for greatly enhanced performance and stability.



If all the proposed R & D, for superior lower cost batteries, can be done for at little as $3.5M, one can wonder what the (12 or so) large battery manufacturers have been doing?


Grant funding enables companies to do development they want to do but can not justify the cost.


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I'd love to see some actual specs on some of these cells, in particular power density. Usually power density and energy density have an inverse relationship. In this article, they're claiming both are excellent.

OK, then give us some type of ball park numbers.


I'd suggest this is a partnership between the co and the university. The 3.5$M costs represent a small fraction of the capitol and intellectual investment that would be required for a stand alone clean sheet venture.

In the end it is the nation as a whole that benefits the most from such investments. The benefits also flow globally. The return on successful research is huge.

Well said, Arnold.


Some times matching funds are required,
at times there are follow on programs with more funding.


Yes, $3.5M is absolutely nothing in the scheme of things. We spend that much every time we develop even minor new products or features on the engineering time. That's enough to fund maybe one small department with a manager, a few engineers a couple of Quality guys and some minor equipment that might be needed.

These kinds of grants are not meant to cause seismic shifts in the industry. They're to give a company some small incentive to explore down a certain path that otherwise might not have made it when it comes time for budget planning.

It's a good program and it seems to help. But it truly is so small it's not worth covering in most cases.


They won't know the actual specs until they finish the program.


Yes, but they are supposed to have batteries shipping in commercial electronics in 2017. If they're that close, they have some idea by now.


24M may have cells, but I see no mention of these.

Henry Gibson

We do not need new technology for stationary cells. Micro turbines used in co-generation will reduce CO2 release faster. ..HG..

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