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SolidEnergy says its new battery materials store more energy and won’t catch fire.

Bulky and expensive batteries are the bane of electric vehicles. A new MIT spinoff company, SolidEnergy, says it has a solution: materials that can increase the amount of energy that lithium-ion batteries store by 30 percent or more and lower costs enough to make electric vehicles affordable.

The startup recently raised $4.5 million in its first round of venture funding. It is working with A123 Venture Technologies, part of the battery maker A123 Systems, to scale up the technology and bring it to market.

SolidEnergy replaces the graphite electrode used in conventional lithium-ion batteries with a high-energy lithium-metal one. That’s been tried before, but the metal tends to cause short circuits and fires. So the company has also developed improved electrolytes to make them safer. It plans to sell materials to battery manufacturers, rather than making batteries itself.

So far, SolidEnergy has made small, hand-built battery cells, similar to what you would find in a cell phone, using equipment and experts at an A123 Systems lab near Boston. (A123 Systems went bankrupt last year, and was acquired by the Chinese company Wanxiang.) These experimental cells store 30 percent more energy than conventional lithium-ion batteries, but the company calculates that the approach could eventually lead to a 40 percent improvement.

The first application of the technology will likely be in portable electronics, says cofounder and chief technology officer Qichao Hu. Electric vehicle batteries take longer to develop, in part because they need to last a decade, whereas batteries for power electronics need only last a few years (see “How Tesla Is Driving Electric Car Innovation” and “Will Electric Vehicles Finally Succeed?”).
More technologyreview.com

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