EnerG2 Announces the Launch of Group14 Technologies
Independent Spin-Off Company Will Commercialize Cost-Effective Advanced Silicon-Carbon Composite Anode Materials for Lithium-Ion Batteries
SEATTLE – April 14, 2016 – EnerG2 (www.energ2.com), a Seattle-based company manufacturing advanced nano-structured materials for next-generation energy storage breakthroughs, today announced the launch of Group14 Technologies (www.group14technologies.com), an independent spin-off enterprise that will commercialize cost-effective, advanced silicon-carbon composite anode materials for lithium-ion batteries.
Despite substantial investment in lithium-ion battery technology, most commercial cells still rely on graphite anodes – originally deployed in the 1990’s because of their low cost and acceptable lithium capacity. But a shift is underway to replace the graphite anode with a silicon containing material, and Group14 Technologies’ silicon-carbon (Si-C) nano-composite material, built on the foundation of EnerG2’s advanced carbon manufacturing capability, is the material of choice.
Group14 Technologies -- which derives its name from the Periodic Table column listing both silicon and carbon -- will manufacture silicon-carbon anode materials with increased energy capacity compared to currently available materials while maintaining the low cost and high cycle life of graphite.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is supporting the project with a $2.8 million grant that is designed to help Group14 Technologies scale its low-cost manufacturing process to the plant level.
“Group14 is poised to claim a significant share of the $1 billion lithium-ion anode material market,” says Rick Luebbe, the CEO of EnerG2 and co-founder, Group14 Technologies. “EnerG2 has made its mark in the lead acid and ultracapacitor markets, and now Group14 can achieve similar success with lithium-ion. The goal is to help bring battery costs down while improving performance so that we can eventually see reasonably priced electric vehicles everywhere.”
Adds Dr. Henry “Rick” Costantino, the Vice President of Research & Development at EnerG2 and co-founder of Group14 Technologies: “We’re excited to bring our innovative approaches to the energy storage marketplace, and .we intend to deliver our cutting-edge solutions to meet our customers’ requirements.”
An Innovative Process -- Incorporating Silicon Into a Porous Carbon Framework
Group14 Technologies’ breakthrough is contained in a cost-effective process, which allows the company to incorporate silicon into the internal surface of its porous carbon framework. Silicon expands and contracts 3-4 fold when it takes on and releases lithium during battery cycling.
“Our unique Si-C composite minimizes issues with silicon expansion and contraction,” explains Dr. Aaron Feaver, the Chief Technology Officer at EnerG2 and a Group14 Technologies co-founder. “And its excellent silicon-carbon bonding insures good electron conductivity to improve power performance. In addition, cycle stability is maintained due to a stable solid electrolyte interface (SEI), all with electrode processing that is typical of carbon.”
Adds automotive visionary and Group14 Board Member, Bob Lutz: “It’s crucial that we continue efforts to build a better battery. People don't want to compromise performance. Current electric vehicles do provide a unique driving experience and unparalleled efficiency, but still do not match the range or convenience of internal combustion. Innovative materials originating from breakthrough science are needed to push batteries to the next level. The advancement in silicon-carbon composite anode materials for lithium-Ion batteries by Group 14 Technologies is pushing us that much closer to the day when electric cars are the standard.”
The porosity of the Group14 silicon-carbon nano-composite allows the silicon to expand and contract easily without damaging the delicate structure of the rest of the battery. This type of arrangement where electrode particles can accommodate silicon expansion has been proposed in the literature and proven effective, but never deployed in a commercially scalable process. The Group14 team has a proven track record in developing and manufacturing engineered electrode materials. By leveraging this expertise and using carbon as a framework that allows for both excellent lithium diffusion and electron conduction, Group14 can create the ideal landscape for high capacity nano-scale silicon. The silicon materials, derived from low cost highly scalable precursors maintain a very small feature size – below the threshold required to prevent self-pulverization during charge and discharge of the battery. Another key aspect of the Group14 solution is its unique particle encapsulation. Traditional graphite materials are known for their safe and stable SEI layer – a feature reproduced in the Group14 silicon-carbon particle. With an engineered surface chemistry, Group14 is able to provide substantially higher lithium capacity while maintaining high cycle life and safety.
EnerG2 has developed a unique approach that engineers the molecular structure of a polymer precursor in order to customize the nanostructure, and, therefore, the performance of the resulting carbon. EnerG2’s proprietary Carbon Technology Platform has two key components: polymer- chemistry-based precursor formulation and processing parameters that transform that precursor into customized carbon. The combination of these elements results in a flexible, low-cost manufacturing process that can produce carbon materials for diverse energy storage applications. EnerG2 operates its state-of-the art manufacturing plant in Albany, Oregon. The inherent scale advantages of the Carbon Technology Platform allow EnerG2 to produce best-in-class carbons. The facility is both ISO-9001:2008 (Quality Management System) and ISO 14001:2004 (Environmental Management System) certified. Further information on EnerG2 is available at www.EnerG2.com
About Group14 Technologies
Group14 integrates the world's leading synthetic carbon technology with novel approaches to silicon structure and manufacturing to address the challenges of energy density and cycle life in Li-ion batteries. The engineered carbons at the heart of Group14's technology already outperform all other carbons available in Li-ion batteries. Group14's expertise in nanomaterials and manufacturing has enabled the development of novel approaches to producing and incorporating silicon into carbon to produce a new class of silicon-carbon composites for battery applications. The objective at Group14 is to develop products that replace graphite in all batteries reflecting not just high performance, but also value derived from novel manufacturing approaches.
The following article previously appeared on April 14, 2016 in Xconomy. See it here: http://www.xconomy.com/seattle/2016/04/14/seattle-startup-group14-technologies-targets-big-boost-in-batteries/
Seattle Startup Group14 Technologies Targets Big Boost in Batteries
April 14th, 2016
A new Seattle materials company is developing a technology that could boost lithium ion battery energy density by up to 30 percent, it claims, while also reducing costs.
Group14 Technologies is a new spin-out from EnerG2, the 13-year-old Seattle materials company that has a growing business providing engineered carbon materials for other energy storage technologies, including ultra-capacitors and lead-acid batteries.
The new company won a $2.8 million Department of Energy grant to advance development of a novel nano-scale material for the anode of lithium ion batteries. Typically made of carbon in the form of graphite, the anode—the battery’s negative electrode—is where lithium is stored when the battery is charged.
Group14 Technologies is focused on silicon “as the next generation anode material,” says Rick Luebbe, co-founder of Group14, and EnerG2’s CEO.
Silicon can absorb on the order of 10 times as much lithium as graphite (more than 3,000 milliamp hours per gram, versus about 350 milliamp hours per gram, Luebbe says), but to do so, it expands to three or four times its original size. That causes problems inside the battery, resulting in very short cycle life: maybe 10 recharges, he says.
Group14’s approach is to create a silicon-carbon composite anode material. The carbon provides a structural support to control the silicon’s expansion. As the silicon expands, it fills void space within the carbon, but the anode particle itself does not expand.
“It’s like we’re putting chips in the cookie dough, and the cookie dough is allowing the chips to expand and contract without breaking the cookie,” says Luebbe.
While the anode is only one battery component, Group14 believes its silicon-carbon composite anode material could lead to an outsize improvement in lithium ion battery energy density—as much as 30 percent, Luebbe says—while solving the problem of short cycle life that has limited silicon’s utility in this application.
“Today, battery manufacturers are working hard to try to squeeze out a few percent here and a few percent there,” he says. “So, we start talking tens of percentage [points] of improvement in the relative short term, that is huge.”
Already, Group14 Technologies has achieved battery lifetimes of about 500 to 800 cycles, which is “in the range of what is commercializable today,” Luebbe says.
The company is targeting an anode material with lithium capacity of 1,200 milliamp hours per gram, capable of 1,000 charge-discharge cycles, at a price of “maybe $40” per kilogram, he says. That’s compared to $15 a kilogram for graphite with capacity of 350 milliamp hours per gram.
“We have a material that’s going to have three- to four-times higher performance at less per amp hour than the cost of graphite,” Luebbe says. “From a commercial perspective, it is going to be the most compelling anode material out there, and will contribute to not just higher-performing batteries, but also cheaper batteries.”
Group14 Technologies still has at least 18 months of work to do to achieve its targets, Luebbe says. “But we do see a number of incremental commercial opportunities as we move the technology in that direction,” he adds.
The market for lithium ion battery anode materials is worth $1 billion, Luebbe says.
He says Group14 Technologies is working “with some of the largest lithium ion battery manufacturers in the world,” gathering feedback and validating performance of the silicon-carbon composite anode. He declines to name specific manufacturers.
Panasonic, LG Chem, and Samsung SDI constitute “the big three” battery manufacturers, says Cosmin Laslau, senior analyst at Lux Research, via e-mail. Those companies “are well-positioned not just in today’s electronics but also in the growing markets for plug-in vehicles and stationary storage,” he adds. He also notes fast-rising China-based manufacturers like BYD, Lishen, and ATL.
Group14’s manufacturer relationships are essential. Lots of researchers and companies are working on improving lithium ion battery anodes, as well as cathodes, binders, electrolytes, barriers, and other battery components. A new material or chemistry in one component often requires tuning of others. And purveyors of these new approaches must show their technology can scale up to keep pace with the growing industry. (The latest proof point is Tesla’s more than 325,000 pre-orders of its forthcoming Model 3.)
Here too, Group14’s leaders believe they have an advantage, thanks to the legacy of work done at EnerG2 on manufacturing large volumes of engineered carbon materials. EnerG2’s factory in Albany, OR, for example, could be used to manufacture the silicon-carbon composite Group14 is developing, Luebbe says.
“We’re expecting a continued tight collaboration between the two businesses,” he says.
There’s plenty of overlap at the outset. The co-founders of Group14 are Luebbe, Rick Costantino, who heads research and development at EnerG2, and Aaron Feaver, EnerG2’s co-founder and CTO.
Group14, which has fewer than five employees but plans to hire rapidly, is sharing office space with EnerG2 on the north shore of Lake Union. EnerG2 has nearly 50 employees, counting staff at the production facility in Albany.
Group14’s federal government grant is being matched with $1.2 million, which Luebbe described as internal support. “We’ll continue to look for opportunities for private funding over the next 18 months,” he says.
And what of the new company’s name? It’s a play on the periodic table, in which each column represents a group of elements with features in common. Group 14 includes carbon, silicon, and other elements with two electrons in their outermost orbital ring.