Nikola Motor Co. said Tuesday that it achieved a landmark breakthrough in battery technology that could double the range of electric vehicles without adding any weight.
“We have the Holy Grail of batteries. You are talking about making electric vehicles at an affordable price point,” said Trevor Milton, founder and chief executive of the Phoenix, Ariz., startup. Nikola is developing hydrogen fuel cell and battery-electric heavy-duty trucks.
The breakthrough has not been confirmed by an independent third party.
A number of battery developers and automakers are working on new battery chemistries in hopes of achieving large improvements in energy density and weight reduction. Such gains would bring down the cost and raise the range of electric vehicles.
One promising is a solid-state battery that Toyota plans to debut in electric vehicles to use at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
The widespread expectation, though, is that it will take several years before any new technology is ready for market, according to ABI Research, a technology research firm.
Nikola’s technology is a new battery chemistry that includes lithium. But it is not the standard lithium-ion chemistry used in everything from cell phones to Teslas.
Commercialization of the technology would allow Nikola’s battery-electric trucks to drive 800 miles fully loaded between charges. Or they could drive half that distance but carry an additional 5,000 pounds of cargo. The company’s fuel cell trucks, which also use some batteries, could surpass 1,000 miles between stops, Milton told Trucks.com.
The batteries will be in Nikola trucks by the end of next year and in full production in 2021, Milton said.
Automakers could use the technology for passenger vehicle batteries, he said.
He said the technology could increase the range of current electric passenger cars to 600 miles from 300 miles today with no increase to battery size and weight. Alternately, it could reduce the cost of current electric vehicles with a 250- to 300-mile range, cutting the expense and weight of their battery packs. Milton said the cell technology is environmentally friendly and easy to recycle.
Milton provided only a few details about the technology. He said the company will demonstrate the technology at its Nikola World conference in the fall.
LIGHTER AND SMALLER
He said a typical lithium-ion battery cell used for vehicles is a 5 amp-hour cell that is 21 millimeters by 70 millimeters and costs about $2. The Nikola battery cuts the size and cost in half for the same 5 amp-hour cell.
The technology does that by removing binder material and electric current collectors from the cell, allowing for more energy storage. Current collectors conduct energy through the battery, but they take up weight and space.
“Our material is more conductive,” Milton said. “It can take energy through the cell with the material rather than needing the current collector.”
The company is testing the cells and finding they can withstand 2,000 charge and discharge cycles. That is about double the current standard, Milton said.
MUM ON SOURCE
Nikola is cagey about the source of the technology. It said security and confidentiality concerns prevent the company from providing more details.
“We acquired it from a professor who had been working on it for over a decade. It comes from academia. We improved it to the point where we can commercialize the technology with their help,” Milton said.
Earlier this month, Nikola agreed to acquire a battery engineering company to help bring the new battery to pre-production. Through this acquisition, Nikola will add 15 PhDs and five master’s degree team members to its staff. But it did not name the company it acquired.
Milton said it is open to creating a technology sharing agreement with other manufacturers and automakers.
Nikola is a privately-held business. It does not report the same level of detail for financial transactions and material developments as a company that has stock that trades on an exchange.
The startup’s significant investors include CNH Industrial, parent of IVECO trucks and automotive parts supplier Bosch Co. Other investors include Hanwha Group, a South Korean conglomerate and Wabco Holdings, an automotive industry supplier.
“We strike out 8 out of 10 times testing various things, but this time we have hit a grand slam,” Milton said.