Tim De Chant
Solid Power’s new pilot line is a groundbreaking moment in the march toward solid-state batteries for electric vehicles. But don’t count on a revolution in lithium-ion battery chemistry happening on the line itself. That’s by design.
The new facility, unlike the company’s previous pre-pilot line, will be “highly inflexible,” said Doug Campbell, Solid Power’s CEO. In the battery world, an inflexible pilot line is a good thing — it means that the company is honing its production skills with an eye toward commercialization. Mass production, after all, relies on repeatedly performing a sequence of refined steps over and over again without any surprises.
The pilot line will make cells between 60 and 100 Ah (amp hours) depending on the customer’s requirements — “a fairly large cell,” Campbell said. “That’s all it’s going to produce, and it will produce them in relative high-throughput — high-throughput enough that we can get multiple OEM partners through a full design freeze, otherwise known as a conclusion of a B-sample validation phase.”
Think of the B-sample as a beta test: The big kinks will be worked out and the top-line specs will be fixed. Before that, though, Solid Power has some refinements to make, as all battery companies do in this phase.
“I don’t want to promise that we’re going to have phenomenally performing cells coming off the line tomorrow,” Campbell said. “There’s going be some debugging. There’s going to be some process optimization. Everything’s getting scaled up, and every time you do that, you’ve got to tweak and iterate to replicate what you did at the previous scale. So we baked that into the schedule.”
Solid Power is aiming to deliver the B-samples in the first half of 2024, just two years from now. After that, the march toward production begins in earnest. By Solid Power’s very realistic timeline, we might have the opportunity to buy a solid-state battery EV as soon as 2028.
But Solid Power’s progress represents more than just a potential step-change in range and power in the EV world. It likely marks a new phase in the U.S. battery industry.
“We are in early-stage planning for our next stage of production,” Campbell said, “and it is, by and large, being looked at here in the United States.”