California-based QuantumScape claims its solid-state batteries with lithium-metal anodes achieve 80 percent charge in less than 15 minutes. The company, which has a JV with Volkswagen for battery supplies and counts the likes of Bill Gates among its backers, saw 2019 Nobel Prize (Chemistry) winner Dr Stanley Whittingham validate its tech. Chief Marketing Officer Asim Hussain details the firm's plans, future roadmap and partnerships.
What is the genesis of QuantumScape and how has the progress been?
Our co-founder and CEO, Jagdeep Singh, bought a Tesla Roadster in the late 2000s. That got him thinking about how to overcome the limitations of battery life and performance to make EVs more practical and attractive for masses. He began working with other technical experts at Stanford and founded QuantumScape in 2010 to develop and commercialise better EV batteries.
We quickly arrived at the decision that the solid-state lithium battery would be the best technology for the step change in battery performance we were trying to achieve. After 10 years of hard work with some of the best battery scientists and engineers in the world, we achieved significant breakthrough that we shared with the world for the first time last December .
The QuantumScape battery architecture will address fundamental issues that are holding back widespread adoption of high-energy density solid-state batteries for EVs, including charge time (current density), cycle life, safety and operating temperature.
What were the different battery chemistries that were looked into before finalising on the solid-state lithium-metal batteries?
We examined numerous chemistries and materials and their various combinations across millions of tests in order to find the right solid-state separator material to make the solid-state lithium-metal architecture. This enables our battery technology to utilise a solid-state separator paired with a lithium-metal anode. The battery as manufactured will be anode-free in a discharged state and require no lithium besides what is present in the cathode as the lithium-metal anode will form in-situ when charged.
How big is the QuantumScape team and how much investment has already gone towards developing this technology?
There are around 200 staff currently working at QuantumScape and we have invested over $300 million (Rs 2,220 crore) till date.
QuantumScape has received overwhelming response from the likes of Bill Gates -backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Volkswagen, Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, Stanford University and Continental. What were the key factors that helped convince these organisations?
We cannot speak for them but would suggest that our investors share a common goal to try and electrify the transportation sector to reduce GHGs and pollution. They understand that in order for mass-market adoption of EVs, critical improvements in battery performance is required. Based on this, they recognised that QuantumScape’s solid-state lithium-metal batteries have the potential to provide the performance levels to be competitive with internal combustion engines to accelerate the transition to EVs.
Do you think the global EV market will continue to look at lithium-ion battery technology to mature and not switch to some other alternatives?
The global EV market will grow at a rapid pace as only about two percent of vehicles are electric today. There will probably be multiple battery technologies for different applications as the EV transition occurs. We believe that we have a compelling opportunity to make a big impact in the EV market as our technology enables a 15-minute charge to 80 percent capacity — faster than either a conventional battery or alternative solid-state approaches are capable of delivering. In addition, our battery technology is capable of lasting hundreds of thousands of miles, and is designed to operate at a wide range of temperatures, increasing the durability of current EV batteries.
What are the challenges to accelerate the development time for your solid-state batteries?
With any new technology, there are challenges. We have developed the battery chemistry and architecture and now have to focus on the engineering aspects of manufacturing multi-layer cells and EV battery packs at automotive scale.
Are there any other battery chemistries that you are looking at which may disrupt the market?
We are fully focused on solid-state as the best option for better performing EV batteries. We are confident that it is the best option for making necessary improvements but expect other battery tech to advance too. Between EVs and other applications that are crucially important to addressing the climate crisis, we expect to see multiple technologies advancing, gradually optimising for specific applications as electrification expands across sectors.
Does your early partnership and commitment to provide batteries to the Volkswagen Group by 2025 deter other potential customers?
Volkswagen has been a tremendous partner for us and we expect to have our batteries in their vehicles first. We still expect many other automakers to be interested in partnering with us to adopt our technology and that may also happen in the future.
How does a testimonial by Dr Stanley Whittingham, the co-inventor of the lithium-ion battery and winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, help QuantumScape’s cause?
We are very proud to have Dr Stanley Whittingham validate our technology as someone who truly understands the technical complexity and challenges involved to create a breakthrough in battery performance. He recently said, “The hardest part about making a working solid-state battery is the need to simultaneously meet the requirements of high energy density (1,000 Wh/L), fast charge (i.e., high current density), long cycle life (greater than 800 cycles), and wide temperature-range operation. This data shows QuantumScape’s cells meet all of these requirements, something that has never before been reported. If QuantumScape can get this technology into mass production, it holds the potential to transform the industry.”
Will you be open to working or sharing your tech with other companies to help mass production?
We are already working with Volkswagen in a joint venture to scale our manufacturing capabilities. We expect that there will be numerous opportunities to collaborate with partners and customers as we commercialise our technology and begin the mass production process.
This interview was first published in Autocar Professional's February 15, 2021 issue.