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QuantumScape (NYSE:QS), the company that is spearheading efforts to commercialize solid-state batteries, was the subject of a phenomenal momentum-driven rally in the latter part of 2020 as the company geared up to merge with the Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC), Kensington Capital. In recent days, however, the stock’s fortunes have largely reversed as investors grapple with the extended time window required for a formal launch of QuantumScape’s battery.
Now, it seems that the onset of new competition is also forcing QuantumScape investors to recalibrate their original euphoria. To wit, the Israeli startup StoreDot announced this week that it would start offering engineering samples of its new Li-ion battery that can be charged in just 5 minutes. In a clear departure from the industry norm, StoreDot’s battery cells utilize metalloid nano-particles instead of graphite in the anode, significantly boosting the charge efficiency. The company noted in its press release:
“The sample cells were produced by StoreDot's strategic partner in China – EVE Energy Co., Ltd. Crucially, unlike competing technologies which require significant capital expenditure in bespoke manufacturing equipment, StoreDot XFC batteries are designed to be produced on existing Li-ion production lines at EVE Energy. The samples are compliant with UN 38.3, which ensures the safety of Li-ion batteries during shipping.”
Now, readers should note that key advantages that solid-state batteries purportedly have over their Li-ion counterparts center around faster charging times, enhanced safety, and durability. However, new advances in Li-ion battery tech continue to narrow down these technical differences, boosting their viability in the process. This is not to say that QuantumScape’s product is a dud. On the contrary, as an “anode-free” lithium-metal battery, the company claims to deliver enhanced energy density as well as safety. This anode-free construct – where the deposition of lithium ions on the anode current collector forms a temporary anode that then disintegrates during the discharge process – reportedly delivers superior energy density and safety as compared to conventional Li-ion cells.
On a more sobering note, we can’t estimate the true efficacy of StoreDot’s product until its battery samples have been rigorously tested in real-life conditions. We also currently do not know much about how the battery degrades as it experiences rigorous charge and discharge cycles. Here, of course, QuantumScape can offer more clarity. According to the thread posted on QuantumScape’s official Twitter account, the company has now completed over 1,100 test cycles of its solid-state battery, corresponding to real-life usage of 300,000 miles for a 300-mile battery pack and 500,000 miles for a 500-mile battery pack. Crucially, the company claims that its battery has retained over 80 percent of its capacity, equating to a Coulombic Efficiency (CE) – a ratio of the total charge extracted from the battery to the total charge put into the battery over a full cycle – of over 99.991 percent. Bear in mind that the benchmark for commercial feasibility is 80 percent capacity retention over 800 charge cycles.
Of course, QuantumScape also faces competition from other solid-state battery manufacturers. Toyota has famously announced the launch of such a battery in 2021, which is years ahead of anyone else. Moreover, Solid Power intends to launch its own lithium-metal battery by 2026. This battery reportedly has an energy density of 330 Wh/kg and has 22 layers. Bear in mind that QuantumScape is currently tackling this challenge of multi-layering its battery cells to increase energy density. Nonetheless, QuantumScape’s batteries are expected to hit the market in 2025 – a full year ahead of Solid Power. Moreover, QuantumScape’s product possesses higher energy density – in excess of 350 Wh/kg – and can also work at temperatures as low as -30 degree Celsius. On the other hand, Solid Power has only tested its battery at a temperature of -10 degree Celsius. Crucially, while QuantumScape’s product can charge up to 80 percent of the total capacity in 15 minutes, Solid Power’s can only reach 50 percent of the capacity in the same timeframe.
As we’ve repeatedly pointed out, battery tech is one of the most interesting areas of innovation currently, with the field attracting not only a large number of players but also ample financing aimed at facilitating a transition to an all-electric future. In this backdrop, QuantumScape’s ability to navigate the competitive landscape remains a crucial variable.