The digital era has increased our use of consumer devices and electric vehicles. And as we rely more and more on these products in our everyday lives, we need them to last longer. But since the introduction of li-ion batteries 30 years ago, annual gains in how much energy they can store have averaged less than five percent when you look across the industry.
We haven’t seen significant-enough advances in the form or performance of these critical energy sources to keep pace with our growing needs — which go well beyond the phones and laptops we carry around everywhere. Li-ion is the energy-storage solution at the heart of grand infrastructure proposals calling for a nationwide network of EV charging stations and better harnessing of wind and solar power to supplement the grid.
By 2030, demand for li-ion batteries is expected to increase by almost 15-fold, according to the strategic research provider Bloomberg New Energy Finance. To significantly improve performance while maximizing efficiencies in production and price, something in the fundamental nature of the battery itself must evolve. Of all the companies trying to manufacture the next generation of li-ion batteries, the clear leader is Enovix.
Enovix batteries represent a step-change improvement in architecture and performance. The company’s proprietary 3D cell architecture enables Enovix to use silicon as the only active lithium cycling material in the anode — resulting in energy densities five years ahead of current industry production (as high as 900 Wh/L).
Since the company’s launch in 2007, Enovix has succeeded in producing next-generation batteries that leading brands in wearables, mobile devices and laptops have sampled and validated performance. Then in February, Enovix announced it will go public through a SPAC merger with Rodgers Silicon Valley Acquisition Corp. in order to ramp up high-volume production and, ultimately, expand into the EV and energy-storage markets.
As Enovix lists publicly today, under the Nasdaq ticker symbol “ENVX,” I asked the company’s co-founder and CEO, Harrold Rust, how his team first came up with the idea for this unique, 3D architecture, how it will keep battery costs down over time, and how big a role it could play in America’s strategic goals of better harnessing renewable energy and shoring up its industrial supply chain.
Why has it been so difficult for innovations in batteries to make it out of the lab and into industry?
The battery industry historically has been focused on improvements in the materials that go inside the battery, primarily on the cathode (the “positive” electrode). What the industry has lacked is a recognition that it requires an entirely new architecture, or how the battery is constructed, to drive meaningful improvements in energy density. The founders of Enovix were not battery experts — we were experts in 3D architectures from our time at IBM and FormFactor. We were able to approach the problem free of bias and ask the question, “Is there a better way to make a battery?”
What are the innovations that account for the step increase in battery performance?
There are two factors that allow Enovix to increase energy density in our cells: one, our 3D architecture, which packs the materials of the battery more efficiently than conventional cells; and two, our anode (the “negative” electrode), in which 100 percent of the cycling material is silicon. Battery designers for years have attempted to replace graphite with silicon in the anode because it can store more than twice as much lithium by volume and increase energy density. But silicon presents problems in that it expands by over 2x; traps up to half the lithium upon first charge; increases battery swelling by over 20 percent; and suffers from poor cycle life due to particle cracking.
For this reason, incumbents tend to use less than 10 percent silicon in their anode to moderately boost performance while managing these problems. But because Enovix built our battery differently, we were able to develop novel approaches to solve the problems silicon creates. This includes our stainless-steel constraint system to manage expansion and a pre-lithiation process that allows us to efficiently replace lost lithium at formation during the manufacturing process.
Lowering the production cost of batteries is key to making EVs competitive with gas-powered vehicles. How does Enovix achieve this kind of cost reduction?
Increasing energy density is a tremendous lever to bring the cost of batteries down over time. Simplistically, that’s because if you can make a battery of the same size with more watt hours, the cost per watt hour will decrease, all else being equal. Getting to this point will require scale and mastering our manufacturing process, but it is absolutely one of our goals. Along those lines, our strategy is to use abundant, low-cost materials inside of our battery, as opposed to highly engineered materials with limited supply chains. Silicon holds great potential here as a cost lever given it is the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust.
How big a role does the battery industry play in the current effort to transform America’s infrastructure to support widespread EV use and increase renewable energy use?
Batteries have a critical role to play in this transition as they are the key enabler of renewable-energy storage. Additionally, a lower cost and higher performing battery is crucial to driving the electrification of transportation.
What is the industry’s role in America’s effort to reduce its dependence on foreign battery manufacturers and reduce its exposure to threats like supply chain disruptions or tariff wars?
We’re very proud to be able to build the first factory for our advanced lithium-ion batteries in Fremont, California. We view co-locating our first production facility with our R&D facility as strategically important as it allows us to create an innovation feedback loop. Beyond that, we have customers who actually would like to see an American-made advanced battery, as it decreases the risk of geopolitical disruptions. We’re increasingly seeing a recognition in both the public and private sectors that having a U.S.-based battery manufacturing sector is a strategic imperative. As a country, we shouldn’t repeat the mistakes made over the last 30 years of allowing this critical technology to leave our shores.
What will the transaction for going public allow Enovix to do next?
The proceeds of this transaction will allow us to fund our plan to establish production in both Fremont (“Fab-1”) and then in a second, larger facility we call “Fab-2” to satisfy customer demand. Between the two facilities, we plan to have production capacity of over 100 million battery cells annually. This will allow us to become a meaningful player in our initial target market of mobile electronics while at the same time allowing us to invest in batteries for EVs.
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