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Doubling EV range with solid state batteries

Startup Sakti3 expects to have prototypes of a solid-state lithium ion battery that it hopes will increase the range of electric cars and enable cheaper electronics.

To make the next generation of lithium ion batteries, start-up Satki3 is making batteries on equipment normally used to make potato chip bags.

Company founder and CEO Ann Marie Sastry provided a few details on the work Sakti3 is doing to make a battery that will double the energy density compared with existing lithium ion batteries during a talk at the EmTech conference at MIT today. Satki3's ambitions offer a view into how emerging solid-state battery technology could accelerate electric vehicle sales and make batteries for electronics cheaper and longer lasting.

Anne Marie Sastry University of Michigan

Many battery startups are using different methods to boost the performance of today's lithium ion batteries which are used in consumer electronics and electric cars, such as the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt. Leyden Energy, for example, has developed a new electrolyte for lithium ion batteries to improve the battery life for laptops.

Sakti3 was spun out of the University of Michigan to commercialize the work done at Sastry's lab on batteries that don't require a liquid electrolyte, an entirely different approach from traditional batteries. A solid state rechargeable battery promises to be lighter and pack more energy storage into a given space.

"We believe we'll double energy density, collectively as a community in the next few years and that is what we are targeting at Sakti3," Sastry said. "The reason we are targeting energy density that is 2x is because to do anything less is not really enabling anything else."

Sastry said that the company is using computer models to design and optimize battery cells and electrical properties. To minimize the company's risks of scaling up, it's using manufacturing approach that had already been scale.

"Today at Sakti3 we are making battery cells on equipment that literally used to make potato chip bags, which is pretty cheap, but not low tech," she said.

She said the company plans to have prototypes later this year. There are a few other companies making solid-state batteries, including Planar Devices, which build battery cells by essentially spraying layers of material on a sheet of metal to form the different components of a battery.

Sastry said that doubling energy density is required not only to make electric vehicles more mainstream but also to make electronics affordable for people in developing countries. Sakti3 envisions that its batteries would be used in small electric cars for developing countries, which increasingly represent the greatest pull on energy demand worldwide.

"The notion that technology happens in the first world first is not quite right and battery technology is going to propel that," she said.

Satki3 has gotten funding from Khosla Ventures, the venture arms of General Motors, and Japanese conglomerate Itochu.