New manufacturing approach slices lithium-ion battery cost in half

June 23, 2015 by David L. Chandler, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
A pilot manufacturing plant at 24M's headquarters in Cambridge has produced thousands of test batteries to demonstrate the efficiency of the new design. Credit: 24M

An advanced manufacturing approach for lithium-ion batteries, developed by researchers at MIT and at a spinoff company called 24M, promises to significantly slash the cost of the most widely used type of rechargeable batteries while also improving their performance and making them easier to recycle.

"We've reinvented the process," says Yet-Ming Chiang, the Kyocera Professor of Ceramics at MIT and a co-founder of 24M (and previously a co-founder of company A123). The existing process for , he says, has hardly changed in the two decades since the technology was invented, and is inefficient, with more steps and components than are really needed.

The new process is based on a concept developed five years ago by Chiang and colleagues including W. Craig Carter, the POSCO Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. In this so-called "flow battery," the electrodes are suspensions of tiny particles carried by a liquid and pumped through various compartments of the battery.

The new battery design is a hybrid between flow batteries and conventional solid ones: In this version, while the does not flow, it is composed of a similar semisolid, colloidal suspension of particles. Chiang and Carter refer to this as a "semisolid battery."

Simpler manufacturing process

This approach greatly simplifies manufacturing, and also makes batteries that are flexible and resistant to damage, says Chiang, who is senior author of a paper in the Journal of Power Sources analyzing the tradeoffs involved in choosing between solid and flow-type batteries, depending on their particular applications and chemical components.

Cross-sectional diagram shows how the new design for lithium-ion battery cells by 24M increases the thickness of electrode layers and greatly reduces the number of layers needed, reducing manufacturing costs. Credit: 24M

This analysis demonstrates that while a flow-battery system is appropriate for battery chemistries with a low energy density (those that can only store a limited amount of energy for a given weight), for high-energy-density devices such as lithium-ion batteries, the extra complexity and components of a flow system would add unnecessary extra cost.

Almost immediately after publishing the earlier research on the flow battery, Chiang says, "We realized that a better way to make use of this flowable electrode technology was to reinvent the [lithium ion] ."

Instead of the standard method of applying liquid coatings to a roll of backing material, and then having to wait for that material to dry before it can move to the next manufacturing step, the new process keeps the electrode material in a liquid state and requires no drying stage at all. Using fewer, thicker electrodes, the system reduces the conventional battery architecture's number of distinct layers, as well as the amount of nonfunctional material in the structure, by 80 percent.

Having the electrode in the form of tiny suspended particles instead of consolidated slabs greatly reduces the path length for charged particles as they move through the material—a property known as "tortuosity." A less tortuous path makes it possible to use thicker electrodes, which, in turn, simplifies production and lowers cost.

Bendable and foldable

In addition to streamlining manufacturing enough to cut battery costs by half, Chiang says, the new system produces a battery that is more flexible and resilient. While conventional lithium-ion batteries are composed of brittle electrodes that can crack under stress, the new formulation produces battery cells that can be bent, folded or even penetrated by bullets without failing. This should improve both safety and durability, he says.

Unlike conventional, solid lithium-ion batteries, the new semisolid cells are flexible enough to be bent and folded multiple times without affecting their performance, as shown by the constant voltage readings in this test. Credit: 24M

The company has so far made about 10,000 batteries on its prototype assembly lines, most of which are undergoing testing by three industrial partners, including an oil company in Thailand and Japanese heavy-equipment manufacturer IHI Corp. The process has received eight patents and has 75 additional patents under review; 24M has raised $50 million in financing from venture capital firms and a U.S. Department of Energy grant.

The company is initially focusing on grid-scale installations, used to help smooth out power loads and provide backup for renewable energy sources that produce intermittent output, such as wind and solar power. But Chiang says the technology is also well suited to applications where weight and volume are limited, such as in electric vehicles.

Another advantage of this approach, Chiang says, is that factories using the method can be scaled up by simply adding identical units. With traditional lithium-ion production, plants must be built at large scale from the beginning in order to keep down unit costs, so they require much larger initial capital expenditures. By 2020, Chiang estimates that 24M will be able to produce batteries for less than $100 per kilowatt-hour of capacity.

Venkat Viswanathan, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who was not involved in this work, says the analysis presented in the new paper "addresses a very important question of when is it better to build a versus a static model. … This paper will serve as a key tool for making design choices and go-no go decisions."

Viswanathan adds that 24M's new battery design "could do the same sort of disruption to [] batteries manufacturing as what mini-mills did to the integrated steel mills."

Explore further: Study finds a way to prevent fires in next-generation lithium batteries

More information: "Component-cost and performance based comparison of flow and static batteries," Journal of Power Sources, Volume 293, 20 October 2015, Pages 1032-1038, ISSN 0378-7753,

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5 / 5 (2) Jun 23, 2015
If this works as advertized it would be a huge breakthrough as far as I can see. It would make power storage much more cost effective.
Jun 23, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 23, 2015
Read the next paragraph, docile. In the new battery, "the electrode material does not flow", so no need for a pump.
1.7 / 5 (11) Jun 23, 2015
Poco a poco, filthy fuels are losing. With this and some other developments our dream of quiet and clean transportation will be more complete.

And the Saudi Friends of Bush can go stuff it!
3.7 / 5 (9) Jun 23, 2015
Poco a poco, filthy fuels are losing. With this and some other developments our dream of quiet and clean transportation will be more complete.

And the Saudi Friends of Bush can go stuff it!
Arf arf says the trained dog.
5 / 5 (2) Jun 23, 2015
So far as I can tell all the news is being spawned from a single press release.

Best they send one of the prototypes along to Elon.
1.4 / 5 (9) Jun 23, 2015
5 / 5 (3) Jun 23, 2015
Elon Musk ain't gonna like this....with the Gigafactory nearly up an running.

Still, I hope they get this to market, soon. It's about darn time for an affordabel EV with adequate range.
1.5 / 5 (8) Jun 23, 2015
Yes, he is.

They built it knowing they would need to make modifications for newer technologies.
5 / 5 (2) Jun 24, 2015
Elon Musk ain't gonna like this....with the Gigafactory nearly up an running.

They say factories built for this will be easily scalable, any idea if traditional factories will be convertible? Of course Musk won't want to pay (money or time) for a huge renovation immediately after opening, but having the option in the future would still be great.
5 / 5 (1) Jun 24, 2015
any idea if traditional factories will be convertible?

I'm sure they could be converted. But the investment in the 'old' technology is already done. Any conversion would mean more downtime (which again is very costly, as the products from the factory are already booked for more than a year in advance). The factory has to pay for itself before any conversion is going to be done.

Then there is still the issue that the new production method may have some downside which only actual product tests under real conditions will reveal. So jumping to a new tech is not without its own risks. It's a dicey situation.

An investor could make huge bank if they could "out-Musk" Musk by quickly starting to slap a few of these units together and going to market - immediately reinvesting the proceeds to add more units. (Or they could go quickly bankrupt if a problem does arise)
4 / 5 (4) Jun 24, 2015
You all forget that Tesla's "megafactory" will take up about 16-17% of the world's lithium production at full output.

You can make batteries at $100 / kWh only if lithium prices remain the same as today, or to put it otherwise, only if the market for lithium batteries remains the same as today.

With Terawatt-hours of storage batteries required by the renewable industries, and with the other 3 billion people wanting cellphones and laptops etc. it's not going to be that simple. The technology is there for 2020 but the rest of the market isn't.

Then there is still the issue that the new production method may have some downside

Colloidal electrodes sound like high internal resistance, because the electrode isn't fully in contact with itself. That means slow charge rate and relatively low efficiency.
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 24, 2015
Another interesting point to note is that lithium batteries are made with natural graphite for the electrodes, because it's cheaper.

Graphite is carbon. Natural graphite is basically coal, mined out of the ground from suitable deposits. Ironically, it has a smaller CO2 footprint than synthetic graphite because the latter takes more energy to manufacture. It's also a non-renewable resource.

5 / 5 (4) Jun 24, 2015
There is plenty of lithium out there - http://nextbigfut...ion.html

The article points out three obstacles/costs to lithium extraction from brine: cost and availability of soda ash, the expense of separating magnesium, and the energy cost of heating and pressurizing the brine.

There's plenty of lithium, but the question is how fast can you dig it?


Lithium hydroxide is used as an active cathode in the batteries

From the perspective of Wall Street, there's plenty of lithium on the market. But in reality, there's only a surplus of lithium carbonate. Lithium hydroxide, in fact, is lacking.

Reason being, there's much more carbonate in lithium brine deposits (the source for various lithium types). Lithium hydroxide segments are also 2.5 times smaller than the well-supplied lithium carbonate segment.
5 / 5 (4) Jun 24, 2015

Processing the plentiful lithium carbonate into lithium hydroxide is of course, more expensive.

Another metal used in lithium batteries, especially by Tesla/Panasonic is cobalt, which is also seeing a price hike due to demand:

Cobalt Shortage Put Brakes on Electric Car

About 40% of current cobalt demand comes from the battery industry for products such as smartphones, laptops, and of course electric cars.

According to Simon Moores of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, cobalt demand from the battery industry alone could rise 17% from 2013 levels. That would be about 7,000 metric tons more per year.

The U.S. Geological Survey put 2013 cobalt production in the United States at only 6,500 tons and Canada at just 8,000 tons.

Most of cobalt comes from Congo and China. It's cheap as a byproduct of other metals mining so you can't just ramp up production without massively increasing price.
5 / 5 (6) Jun 24, 2015
What many people don't appreciate is that the battery industry needs to expand more than a million-fold. If we are to power every car on the roads with electricity, then we need about 3.6 billion battery systems worldwide, plus spares and stock. Then you also need Terawatt-hours worth of batteries for the renewables industries which is even bigger a task.

Just beginning to think to hope towards that end would mean millions and millions of battery cells.

When you start making that much more of something, however cheap things are now doesn't tell you -anything- about what the price is going to be when you really get started.

You don't just start cranking out millions of batteries without running into supply chain issues.

3 / 5 (2) Jun 24, 2015
I will further develop Eikka's issue:

The theoretical minimum for a lithium battery is 80 g of Li/kWh, using Eikka's figure of 3.6 billion EV batteries and assuming they are all 40 kWh packs, then you need 11.5 millions tonnes of lithium.
However, lithium for EV batteries needs to be very pure (99.99%) but the process used to purify it is very wasteful. As much as 30% of the input is lost. In this case, the theoretical minimum goes up to around 15 millions tonnes.
And because all lithium does not participate in the reaction, you need to at least double this estimates, which is 30 million tonnes.
For comparison, USGS estimates lithium resources at 39.5 millions tonnes and reserves at 13.5 millions tonnes.

Recycling cannot change anything because you first need to dig out the metal before trying to recycle it.
Finally, add renewable storage and I don't see how we will drive on lithium.
5 / 5 (3) Jun 24, 2015
And that is something we are really good at handling

I still don't think you fully appreciate the sheer scale of this issue.

Compare the earlier article where they claimed Finland could go 100% renewable, and a part of the plan involved 20 GWh of lithium-ion batteries.

That amount of batteries equals the manufacture of about 250,000,000 laptops, and that's just for one country with 5 million people in it.

The other people need some too, and that's a thousand times more again.
5 / 5 (4) Jun 25, 2015
The article I referenced shows 780 years of supply (at current levels) - in one deposit.

Yes, but that was referring to US demand, which is just 1/23th of the world in terms of population. Surely the rest of the world wants to have what we have. In terms of the entire world, that deposit lasts for 34 years.

And then you factor in a 1000 fold increase in demand, and suddenly all that lithium will be consumed in 12 days.

So much for that deposit.
5 / 5 (3) Jun 25, 2015

Besides. The amount of batteries needed for renewable energy is likely to be very much higher than estimated. For example, the 20 GWh cited in the Finland study is only enough to power the country for 2 hours in the summer, 1 hour in the winter, according to their published demand figures.


Of course the batteries won't act alone, but that figure greatly limits how much variation they can deal with. Suppose the batteries start out half empty; over a 24 hour period they can balance a 4% power deficit or surplus. Meanwhile, sources like wind power will have a 400% surplus or nearly 100% deficit.

20 GWh isn't even a full day's worth of backup for 5 million people. They need more like 360 GWh which is 10 years worth of output from the Tesla Megafactory. In fact, the country would need a Megafactory of its own just to produce the replacements as the old cells wear out.

5 / 5 (3) Jun 25, 2015
If there are 1 megafactories for every 5 million people to crank out the battery cells necessary for minimum grid load balancing of renewables, the world needs about a thousand megafactories in total to meet the battery demand for renewable energy - plus everything else.

Take a tape measure and measure out one meter.

When the Tesla Megafactory opens in 2017, that compares to the thickness of the metal clip at the end of the tape as measured on our one meters scale, or if you're not familiar with metric, that's about the difference of 1/32" to the yard.

There is the distinct possibility that it simply may not be possible.
5 / 5 (2) Jun 25, 2015
I referenced shows 780 years of supply (at current levels) - in one deposit.

We should note that x years of supply for lithium is not the same as x years supply for oil. Oil is used up. Lithium isn't. When a battery reaches the end of its lifecycle the lithium can be reused to make new batteries.
So all the lithium we need in the worldwide deposits is the total amount for every one on the planet to have an EV/powerwall/whatever at once.
5 / 5 (3) Jun 25, 2015
So all the lithium we need in the worldwide deposits is the total amount for every one on the planet to have an EV/powerwall/whatever at once.

Which is at the magnitude of all the world's known reserves and estimates. Plus, you have to account for systemic loss, because not all batteries end up in recycling, and recycling isn't 100% efficient.

I'm sure we could technically extract all the lithium out of sea-water, but the question is how much energy and resources is it going to take and is it practically feasible to do so?

And what are the environmental aspects of extracting all of it?
5 / 5 (3) Jun 25, 2015
Which is at the magnitude of all the world's known reserves and estimates.

So? Since this is all that is needed then we're good.

And note that this would be going for 100% lithium ion batteries without using any alternatives (of which there are many) where better suited.

And what are the environmental aspects of extracting all of it?

Extracting once is with absolute certainty MUCH more environmentally friendly than even the most benign continually pumped/used resource. In any kind of math you care to name.
5 / 5 (1) Jun 25, 2015
The bottom line is that we need an energy storage system be it by battery, heat or fuel. I suppose that if solar power became cheap enough when including all of the costs that a normal business model includes, the efficiency of the solar to energy storage process could be inefficient and still be less expensive than competing energy sources.

An unknown at this time is the maintenance costs and amount of usable power that a solar farm will put out over it's true lifetime. I still have hopes for safe nuclear. Fusion still could happen but it is hard to plan around something that has not yet be produced.
5 / 5 (1) Jun 25, 2015
So? Since this is all that is needed then we're good

Recycling isn't 100% efficient and the recycling efficiency decreases drastically with increasing complexity and/or decreasing concentration. Recycling aluminium cans is easy and straightforward with almost quantitative yields because it is pure aluminium. In the case of batteries, you have to get lithium out of cobalt, nickel and other elements. Furthermore, it is diluted in the anode. In a nutshell, recycling yield will be not so high, and so you will have to compensate with fresh lithium.

Battery recycling uses acid-leaching which generates its own waste that must be disposed off. In the utopian time where everything is battery-powered, there will still be wastes, not from mining but from recycling.
not rated yet Jun 25, 2015
I'm sure we could technically extract all the lithium out of sea-water, but the question is how much energy and resources is it going to take and is it practically feasible to do so?

It's actually quite easy to answer a part of this question.
Lithium concentration in seawater is 0.1 ppm or 0.1 mg/L.

If we take the Amazon River flow rate (209000 cubic meters/s or 209E6 L/s), then we will extract only 20.9 g of Li/s. We would gather the equivalent of 659 tonnes IN ONE YEAR.
Enough to make only 4 GWh worth of batteries (using 160g of Li/kWh), or 11% of the Gigafactory's output.

So in my opinion, it's not really worth it and if we go to such great lengths to recover this dilute resource, then the extraction price will certainly preclude its use in batteries, thus making this venture useless.
5 / 5 (4) Jun 26, 2015
recycling yield will be not so high, and so you will have to compensate with fresh lithium.

More specifically; it's cheaper to use fresh lithium - if you have some available.

You can just put the waste over and over through the recycling process to get arbitrarily close to 100% extraction, but it will cost you because it gets more dilute every time.

So? Since this is all that is needed then we're good.

That's an incredibly naive statement.

Just like oil gets more expensive to pump out the less there is left, so will lithium, because the easier deposits are exploited first. We don't know exactly how much lithium is needed, just that it's in the same ballpark of what we have if we didn't mind how much it costs to dig it up.

Wrong. - I did mis-recall the number - it was 720 years, not 780.

So a thousand-fold increase in demand will deplete the deposit in 9 months. Is that significantly better?
5 / 5 (4) Jun 26, 2015
24M has competition. This company is claiming $54 per Kwh. Bold claims - but definitely interesting times.


Sounds like anohter EEStor. They're too vague to be real, trying to sell what they don't yet have and soliciting investors by boasting who they're associated with.
5 / 5 (6) Jun 26, 2015
South America will be a major source.

"The Bolivian government intends to spend 570 million euros ($620 million) on lithium mining and processing capacity development. Its plan foresees lithium carbonate production beginning in 2020.

The Saudi Arabia of lithium
Salt flats in the highlands of Bolivia are thought to hold six million tonnes of untapped lithium reserves, and similar salt flats a bit further south in Chile and in Argentina also hold millions of tonnes."
Whydening Gyre
1 / 5 (1) Jun 26, 2015
This was an interesting comment thread. Full of information and dissenting opinions, with no rancor and just plain fun...:-)
Thanks, guys!
not rated yet Jun 28, 2015
IIRC, we have recently found a way to extract lithium from low grade ore, effectively and cheaply.

This is key, regarding lithium use and lithium reserves. Lithium reserve calculations do not have the low grade ores included. Only the major deposits, due to this calculated sheer impossibility of dealing with the low grade ores.

Now we can go after the 1-2-3% graded ores, quickly and inexpensively. This means that Lithium reserve calculations have shot up by at least an order of magnitude, almost over night.

Lithium cost structuring is set to drop, not increase... even in the face of extreme demand.

A secondary function of this new extraction technique is the possibility in using it as an adjunct in purification methodology, thus reducing cost in that given battery manufacturing aspect.

Look into it.
not rated yet Jun 28, 2015
New manufacturing approach slices lithium-ion battery cost in half "and doubles corporate profits". There is no way the consumer will benefit from this.
not rated yet Jul 01, 2015
"New manufacturing approach slices lithium-ion battery cost in half "and doubles corporate profits". There is no way the consumer will benefit from this."

Bearly corporations feed, house and clothe almost everyone in the developed world. You do not have even the slightest idea what the profit margin is for the average corporation. To you all profits are evil.
not rated yet Jul 04, 2015
Bill Alek at AuroraTek claims to have a device that produces power, but does not require charging.

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