Plenary Highlights from AABC San Diego

By Kent Griffith

February 19, 2024 | At the latest Advanced Automotive Battery Conference, parallel tracks spanned the battery and EV sectors from raw materials sourcing and the latest electrode chemistry developments to cell and pack engineering all the way up to gigafactory manufacturing and the automation thereof. Representation on the exhibition floor paralleled the technical sessions: startups showcased their new tech and scale-up efforts, equipment makers brought great swaths of battery testing and manufacturing instrumentation, and battery intelligence companies came armed with data solutions.

The plenary session at AABC featured a selection of the largest and most influential organizations in the automotive battery world. Robert Lee from LG Energy Solution (LGES) opened the session with a three-pronged discussion covering the market forecast, the future of NMC vs. LFP, and the future of LGES in North America. (Read more at “LG Energy Solutions on Market Health, BEV Drivers, Favorite Chemistries”) By 2025, LGES aims to reach more than 600 GWh annual battery capacity, with more than half of that in North America. Eight plants are planned for North America, seven in the US and one in Canada, each with rated annual capacities of 25–50 GWh. Six of the eight plans are joint venture facilities with automotive OEMs including General Motors, Stellantis, Hyundai, and Honda; the other two are independent LGES factories.

CATL, the world’s largest battery manufacturer, was represented by Ulderico Ulissi. Ulissi, formerly of Sphere Energy, Rho Motion, Nissan, and Oxis Energy, described CATL’s perspective on sustainability and near-future energy storage technologies. Reaching effectively net zero by 2050 includes checkpoints for 60% passenger vehicle electrification, 50% heavy truck electrification, and 50% “low-emission” aviation fuel by 2030, 2035, and 2040, respectively. Of course, this must also be in combination with net-zero electricity generation. Among their battery advances, CATL has been developing a sodium-ion battery that Ulissi reported can store 160 mAh/g and charge in less than 10 mins from 10 to 80% state-of-charge at –10 °C. According to the presentation, it appears that CATL has not picked a single sodium-ion cell chemistry yet and is still considering oxide, Prussian white, and polyanionic (NASICON) cathode materials to pair with a hard carbon anode. Ulissi also mentioned the M3P battery from CATL that is widely believed to be an advanced form of LFP that is similar to LMFP but with an additional component(s) in the cathode chemistry. Consistent with LMFP, the M3P battery is reported to raise cell voltage and improve energy density relative to LFP while being lower cost than NMC. The M3P system was reported to achieve up to a 900 km range in an EV, though details were sparse. Finally, CATL’s presentation included their “condensed battery” with a reported 500 Wh/kg and high safety. It sounds similar to a solid-state battery, but perhaps a relative such as a hybrid semi-solid-state battery. Ulissi reported that the condensed battery, with notable gold packaging, was ready for mass production for EVs by the end of 2023. Bringing it all together, Ulissi discussed the wide range of key performance indicators relevant to rechargeable batteries, which span performance, cost, safety, scalability, geopolitical risk, and environmental impact.

In the final plenary, Matt Denlinger of Ford Motor Company spoke on behalf of the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC). USABC is a collaborative research organization mainly comprised of technical staff from major automakers Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. USABC sets benchmarks and aggressive but achievable goals in the areas of high-performance EVs, fast charging, low cost, and beyond Li-ion batteries. The organization is backed by the US Department of Energy and is focused on advancing technologies from TRLs 4–7 into 8 and 9. In addition to the broad goals, USABC has funded projects related to advanced cell materials, separators, electrolytes, electrode pre-lithiation, manufacturing, and recycling. They also support system-level initiatives including plug-in hybrid EVs, 48 V packs, 12 V start/stop systems, and thermal management. There are more than a dozen funded programs currently underway with research institutes, startups, and established companies. Denlinger discussed highlights on environmentally friendly manufacturing, long cycle life silicon-based batteries, and advanced recycling technologies. In the future, he encouraged looking beyond lithium and strongly considering the supply chain, particularly the ability to source domestic materials.

Common to all the plenary speakers at AABC was an emphasis on scale. Mass global adoption of electric vehicles will require incredible supply chain growth from raw materials up to pack manufacturing and through to recycling. We can do it, but this is just the beginning.