When developing next generation solid state battery technology it is important to focus equally on the technical performance of the cell and on ensuring the outcome is both manufacturable and affordable at scale. Only by achieving both outcomes can the end product be commercially viable.
With time to market so long in the world of automotive it seems sensible to also take advantage of opportunities with shorter and less costly points of entry. Ilika’s Goliath development program is built around these core principles, with consumer and automotive variants identified on the roadmap, and a simultaneous engineering approach to the development. Fortunately, as this year’s £24.7m, fund raise has shown, we have very supportive investors, ready to back Ilika’s approach and also leverage available supporting governmental funds.
The Goliath EV cell program follows on from our earlier, higher TRL program to develop mm-scale solid state batteries for use in medical implants and Industrial IoT- our Stereax range. Although the materials and processes are quite different between the programs, some key industrialisation learnings have been applied to the Goliath program, such as the simultaneous scale-up and development engineering.
An example of this approach is in materials selection. Although scientists would like to select the best possible materials to achieve the highest possible levels of technical performance, there is little point in allowing this if they select materials (e.g. solid electrolyte dopants) which are very rare and render the product too expensive. In an early materials selection pre study conducted by ExaWatt and funded by Ilika, the Ta dopant was eliminated, since with only 1-2 ppm available in the earth’s crust (from DRC, Canada, Australia and Brazil), there are only 90k tons in reserve, most of it currently used in electrolytic capacitors.
Similarly, our vision is that high volume manufacturing should be enabled, as much as possible, by the use of processes and equipment already available to the lithium-ion industry. Early collaborations with industry experts are vital and this year Ilika and Comau (automation and industrialisation experts, part of Fiat Group) have combined under an Automotive Transformation Fund (ATF) funded program called program SOLSTICE. This collaboration will undertake a full study of Ilika’s processes to deliver a plant design for MWh scale solid state manufacturing in a 3rdparty facility such as the UK Battery Innovation Centre. The final part of this collaboration will look at the challenges of Giga-scale industrialisation for solid state technology.
Our Goliath program only began in 2018 in terms of the many global teams working on this challenge. Following our activities in the commercialisation of solid state micro-batteries, we created, with funding from the UK’s Faraday Battery Challenge, a dedicated development facility and commenced research into EV focussed Wh-level solid state cells. A core design principle being safe in production and safe in use. The resulting cells are set to enable battery systems with higher cycle count, faster charge and higher energy density per mass and volume.
Even though it’s only been 3 years since our Goliath program began, a lot has happened in that time. Initial early stage programs in collaboration with automotive OEMs such as JLR, McLaren and Honda have been completed; the simultaneous engineering phase (collaboration with Comau) has begun; a ten-fold output scale-up of the Ilika development facility will be completed 2023 with a technology transfer to higher scale in planning for 2024/5.
It is equally important to get the business proposition in place. Again there is help from the UK Government and in 2021 Ilika was awarded a prestigious place on the fifth cycle of TDAP (Technology Developer Accelerator Programme) sponsored by the Advanced Propulsion Centre UK. This is helping us refine our path-to-market, both in consumer and transport related applications.
In the next few years, we’ll continue expanding and collaborating - much work is needed to develop a UK supply chain for the specific ingredients of solid state batteries. With up to 70% of the BOM cost of a cell being the materials, and the UK car industry focussed on the Rules of Origin, this work on the supply chain is critical, and Ilika is central to the UK’s planning for solid state technology.
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