There’s a battery company in Michigan developing a technology that could allow your smartphone run for days on end, bring electric cars into the mainstream, and even inspire inventions we haven’t yet imagined. But first, it’ll probably appear in a vacuum cleaner.
Dyson, the high-end vacuum and home gadget manufacturer, is placing a big bet on Sakti3, a company that is working on the mass production of solid state batteries at scales never seen before. Unlike traditional batteries, which rely on liquid electrolytes to transport ions from positive to negative terminals, solid-state batteries use, well, solid electrolytes, which are far better at moving ions. That translates into significantly higher energy density—potentially double today’s lithium ion batteries.
Solid-state batteries are nothing new, but with today’s manufacturing techniques, they’re terribly expensive. Here’s Christopher Mims, reporting for the Wall Street Journal:
Solid batteries already exist, though they tend to be tiny—just big enough to fit next to a microchip, providing backup power in case of interruption. Using current technologies, a solid battery large enough to power a cellphone would cost $15,000, if it could be built. And one big enough to power a car would cost $90 million.
But Sakti3’s manufacturing approach, which leans heavily on lessons learned from microchip fabrication, could bring the price down to $100 per kilowatt-hour, a substantial drop from the $250 to $500 per kilowatt hour of today’s large-scale lithium ion batteries. At $100 per kilowatt-hour, electric cars would easily be competitive with traditional internal combustion models, according to a report by McKinsey, the consulting firm.
Producing enough solid-state batteries to satiate the electric vehicle market will take a while, which is likely why you’ll see Sakti3’s batteries in an compact Dyson vacuum before you see them on the road. Though it’s entirely possible that you may not see them at all—as Mims points out, new battery technology is notoriously fickle, and several companies have gone bankrupt attempting to bring a revolutionary technology to market. Even if Sakti3 succeeds, it may take them several years longer than they expected. We’ve certainly seen that happen before .
Photo credit: Andy Armstrong/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)