A Swiss-based battery start-up has set its sights on replacing lithium-ion batteries with an inorganic solution that solves current downfalls. At the top of the list is lithium-ion’s propensity to catch fire, which this new battery solves, but possibly more attractive to car manufacturers, Innolith claims its battery is less expensive.
- Innolith is a Swiss based battery manufacturing start-up that claims to have a battery technology far superior to lithium-ion, the current industry standard.
- Besides being non-flammable, the new battery tech is also said to be non-toxic, requires far less rare minerals.
- On top of better performance and being more environmentally friendly, it costs half of what buyers are currently paying for lithium-ion.
The lithium-ion rechargeable battery has made everything from pocket-sized smartphones to electric vehicles with 200+ mile range, possible. It is, without question, one of the most important technological innovations of the last 50 years. If you don’t believe me, will you take the word of the 2019 Nobel Prize Committee who just awarded the lithium ion battery’s inventors with this year’s award for chemistry?
One of the attributes that makes Innolith’s new battery so attractive, is its architecture is still very similar to current lithium-ion batteries, which makes it easier for manufacturers to switch. (Photo: Getty Images)
Despite its great attributes, the lithium-ion battery is not without downsides. Let’s look at a short of list of problems, in no particular order. We start with a propensity to burst into flames, with the added bonus of being difficult to extinguish — since everything needed for combustion is in the cell. There is ongoing discussion of just how bad the components that make up the chemistry of lithium-ion cells are for the environment; although misinformation abounds, the world’s biggest manufacturers are working to make the process as clean and sustainable as possible, it seems impossible to make them a completely guilt-free product. What consumers will notice most, although the lithium-ion battery is ever-increasingly present in everything we buy, it doesn’t appear to be getting much cheaper.
Going inorganic for the environment
Innolith is planning to replace lithium-ion with its newly developed battery chemistry, which it says, will eliminate all of the downsides listed above – and maybe more.
The new battery uses an inorganic electrolyte – meaning it doesn’t contain carbon and has nothing to do with the word thrown around without regulation at Whole Foods – and is non-flammable. Lithium-ion cells use an organic electrolyte – carbon containing – that contains everything needed for combustion; lithium-ion batteries will burn underwater or in a vacuum which is what makes them hazardous.
While it still does use lithium, Innolith’s battery greatly reduce the amount of the element necessary. The new solvent is capable of a higher density of dissolved salts, meaning greater energy per volume. It also claims the new battery won’t degrade like lithium, meaning less frequent replacements. It also doesn’t use cobalt, which according to Innolith is problematic to source. On top of that, while the chemistry is different, the physical architecture is basically the same, meaning switching production over isn’t complicated, especially compared to solid state or other future tech.
The last improvement that will seal the deal for most manufacturers and consumers is the price. Currently, lithium-ion batteries will cost you over $100 per kWh. Some experts say it will likely drop down to around $75 per kWh by 2030. Innolith is looking to have its first prototypes for electric vehicles up and running within two or three years and in production within 5 years. When in production form, the price is expected $50 per kWh. If the new battery can hit that price point, it will make lithium-ion a thing of the past.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Battery cost and weight are two of the biggest factors holding back the mass adoption of electric vehicles. If batteries were to hit $50 per kWh in a smaller volume than what is possible today, EVs would achieve price parity with cars powered by internal combustion engines. There are several new battery technologies on the horizon, but Innolith’s solution looks like it might beat most of them to market, while also being easier to adopt. In the near-future battery wars, this might be the big winner.