The Power of an (Almost) Open Innovation Approach to Battery Materials | Brian Morin, CEO, Soteria Battery Innovation Group

Today, lithium ion batteries catch fire every day.  One need only do a Google Images search on “lithium battery fire” to see images of fantastic blazes and dismal burns.  It is an issue that is growing as batteries proliferate from our pockets and computers to our wrists, cars and houses.  And as they get bigger, the stakes get higher.

BrianMorin

Brian Morin, CEO, Soteria Battery Innovation Group

What should be done by someone who had a way to eliminate lithium ion battery fires and the resulting injuries and damage?  Should they start a company to make a new battery and compete with LG, Samsung, CATL and Panasonic?  This may make a lot of money, but what about the people hurt by using competitors’ batteries?  If the company fails due to lack of money, poor execution, or bad market timing, people could get hurt or die.

We at the Soteria Battery Innovation Group believe we have a solution and want to make it available to every battery company and every company that uses batteries.  If we succeed, self-ignition in lithium batteries will be eliminated forever, and car accidents with electric vehicles will be much safer.

The solution relies on decoupling the stored electrical energy from the flammable electrolyte.  The only thing preventing the electrical energy from generating a spark is a thin plastic membrane called a separator, which is often less than 10 microns thick.  If there is a defect or damage to the cell that penetrates the membrane, then a spark occurs, and the battery can catch fire.

The Soteria battery architecture eliminates spark caused by the battery.  In this architecture, the metal foils that deliver and remove the electricity have been replaced with polymer films coated with just enough metal to enable the battery to work, but not enough to create a spark.  If a short occurs, the high current density causes the metal to burn out before enough heat is generated to light the cell on fire.  It works just like a fuse in a fuse box.

The thin plastic separator is also replaced with a thermally stable membrane that, even if a short occurs will never melt or shrink, isolating the short.  This is a huge improvement over the stretched plastic films that are used today, which shrink at the first sign of heat and enlarge the short circuit in the battery.

There are two additional advantages of the technology: cost and weight.  Because it uses less metal, the battery weight is reduced dramatically, up to 20%.  This could take up to 200 lbs from an electric vehicle.  The cost is reduced because of the metal reduction, but also because the membrane production costs are lower.

In batteries made with the legacy architecture (left), the current collector is able to deliver all of the energy of a battery into a short or damaged area, creating heat and melting the separator, which can result in a battery fire. The Soteria architecture (right) starts with a separator that never melts or shrinks and adds a metallized film current collector, so that when the energy flows into a short, the separator stays put and the current collector retreats, breaking the short and eliminating thermal runaway and ignition.

In batteries made with the legacy architecture (left), the current collector is able to deliver all of the energy of a battery into a short or damaged area, creating heat and melting the separator, which can result in a battery fire. The Soteria architecture (right) starts with a separator that never melts or shrinks and adds a metallized film current collector, so that when the energy flows into a short, the separator stays put and the current collector retreats, breaking the short and eliminating thermal runaway and ignition.

Sounds promising, but the technology is very new. To bring in the resources needed to mature the technology and assure widespread adoption, we are embracing an (almost) open business model.  We’ve formed the Soteria Battery Innovation Group, a consortium of the most advanced technology companies in the world, and are asking each to apply their own expertise to mature their part of the technology.  Then the technology is licensed with a low royalty rate to those who want to produce the material at a commercial scale. The power of this approach must be seen to be understood.  Here are some examples:

  • Nasa is developing cells and applying their advanced testing techniques to prove the cell’s safety.
  • DuPont is providing materials and guidance in applying Kevlar and Nomex thermally stable fibers to stabilize the membranes to very high temperatures.
  • Voith, an advanced paper machine company, is running pilot trials to improve the process to make the nonwoven membranes more uniform and thinner, reducing cost and improving performance.
  • Mercedes-Benz is developing automotive-grade cells with enhanced safety.
  • Glatfelter has licensed the separator technology and is developing a fulsome product line for cell companies to used in cells with enhanced safety.
  • DuPont Teijin is providing thermally stable films at thicknesses down to a few microns, much thinner than existing metal foils.

And the list goes on.  The consortium has an open membership policy, and low-cost memberships are available to lithium ion battery manufacturers and to companies that manufacture devices using lithium ion batteries. Our goal is to have at least three licensees of each component commercializing the materials by the end of 2020.

We are doing one more thing to assure widespread adoption of the technology.  We believe batteries made with this technology will pass aggressive safety tests that every cell made today would fail.  Think aggressive crush tests and hot abuse tests.  Through the consortium, we plan to set standards based on these tests, and then allow the use of the Soteria name and mark on cells that meet the standards.  In this way, we hope that people come to know that a Soteria cell is safe whether it is lighting kids’ shoes, powering cell phones, mobilizing EVs or storing solar energy for use in the evenings.

Brian Morin,
CEO,
Soteria Battery Innovation Group

 

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