Major Breakthroughs Claimed on Battery Power


Envia Systems announced that it has made a major breakthrough on lithium ion cell technology. The California-based battery maker claims that its research would result in increased energy density, while at the same time reducing costs of these battery packs.

The company is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and GM Ventures, the venture capital arm of General Motors together with other individual investors. According to Atul Kapadia, Chairman and CEO of the company, “We will be able to make smaller automotive packs that are also less heavy and much cheaper. The cost of cells will be less than half – perhaps 45 percent – of cells today and the energy density will be almost three times greater than conventional automotive cells.”

He added, “What we have are not demonstrations, not experiments but actual products. We could be in automotive production in a year and a half.”

The company was founded in 2007 and had licensed technology from the Argonne National Laboratory. It was awarded $4 million in funds by the ARPA-E program of the Department of Energy. This program funds advanced energy research, as one of its founding principles is to develop lithium-ion batteries with the highest energy density in the world.

Central to the advancement of the company’s technology is the proprietary cathode, anode and electrolyte materials as it uses manganese for the cathode. One of its major investors, GM Ventures, during the announcement of its investment with the company, said that the company’s design and materials would be able to store more energy per unit of mass than any other current cathode materials. Since the cathode was a “key driver” in the total cost of a battery pack, the more energy the cathode is able to deliver, the lower the overall cost of the battery because of the lower number of cells needed in the array.

Envia claims that its battery packs would be able to deliver energy measuring at 400 watt hours per kilogram at the cost of $150 per kilowatt hour. Comparatively, Tesla rates its energy density battery for the Roadster at 121 watt hours per kilogram. The measurement of the watt per hours was measured during testing at the Naval Service Warfare Center’s Crane Evaluation System.

In response, the Center for Automotive Research through its chairman emeritus David Cole said, “If it’s true, it’s a huge breakthrough, because the main problem for battery cars has been cost. Right now, the lithium-ion battery is about three times as expensive as it should be for reasonable commercialization. That kind of cost target is the Holy Grail and once it’s achieved it’s game on.”

Company To Change Lithium Market

New Electric Car
New Electric Car

A company out of California last Wednesday announced that it would undertake commercial operations to capture lithium from geothermal energy plants. This, according to them, would most likely make the United States the top exporter of lithium in the world.

The company is Simbol Materials and would locate their lithium extraction facility near the Salton Sea in the Imperial Valley of California. Aside from lithium, the facility also would extract manganese and zinc. None of the planned extracted material would include rare earth elements, which have only be found in large quantities in China. Despite such limitations, lithium ranks as one of the energy critical elements that are deemed crucial for the energy needs of the future.

Lithium is an important element in the creation of electric car batteries. Manganese is also used as battery material as well as important in steel and metal production. Currently, the United States imports most of its lithium needs and all of its manganese requirements.

The company’s design for the process is through attachment with an existing geothermal plant. When the plant generates electricity through steam generated from pumped hot water from drilled holes in the ground. The steam drives turbines and the hot water is pumped back into the ground hole. This underground water is essentially a strong composite of brine with around thirty percent are dissolved salts.

These dissolved salts, according to Luka Erceg, Simbol’s Chief Executive Officer, are rich in these energy critical elements. He said, ““When we looked into the brine resource, what we found was not only lithium, but manganese, zinc and about half the periodic table of the elements.” At this point though, the economically viable elements are lithium, manganese and zinc.

The Simbol plant would process 5,000 to 6,000 gallons of water per minute, and through a filtration process, would be able to extract about 10 to 20 gallons of salt. These salts would then be refined through an extraction process that is 93 percent efficient. This cost effective way can produce much of the lithium requirements of the United States and even allow for production to export to other countries.

Currently, Chile, Australia, China and Argentina are the major producers of lithium. This element is used in metallurgy, pharmaceuticals and now with the increased focus on electric vehicle production, in lithium ion batteries. Be it for cellular phones or the latest electric vehicle model, the lithium contained in their batteries may soon come from the Salton Sea Brine through the efforts of Simbol Materials, Inc.