Forget Electric Vehicles: Why Bedrock Materials Is Targeting Gasoline-Powered Cars for Its First Sodium-Ion Batteries | TechCrunch - Latest Global News

Forget Electric Vehicles: Why Bedrock Materials Is Targeting Gasoline-Powered Cars for Its First Sodium-Ion Batteries | TechCrunch

Spencer Gore has a battery start. But he doesn’t want his batteries to end up in electric vehicles, at least not yet.

“There are a lot of interesting downmarket segments of the automotive industry that are underserved today and that you can get into faster than, for example, traction battery in electric vehicles,” he told TechCrunch. Take, for example, the traditional 12-volt lead-acid battery that sits under the hood of every fossil fuel-powered vehicle on the road today. It’s still a huge market that was overtaken by lithium-ion production capacity just a few years ago.

“We’re still relying on 150-year-old technology,” said Gore.

In contrast, Gore’s company, Bedrock Materials, uses a chemistry that was invented about a decade ago. While he doesn’t reveal the details, he says it’s similar to what’s found in most electric vehicles today, with one big difference: There’s no lithium.

Instead, Bedrock Materials is developing a sodium-ion battery that is said to be significantly cheaper than lithium-ion batteries. The expected cost savings are due to the abundance of sodium: there is about 1,000 times more sodium than lithium on Earth.

Nevertheless, challenges remain. Sodium-ion batteries don’t store as much energy as lithium-ion batteries, and although they are priced lower than lithium-ion batteries, the price difference wasn’t enough to attract hesitant automakers. The formulations that store enough energy to challenge lithium ions have proven brittle, although Gore said his company’s chemistry solves that problem.

Ultimately, Gore would like to see Bedrock Materials win an electric vehicle battery contract. But he argues that it makes more sense to launch a product in a more stagnant market first, such as starter batteries for fossil fuel-powered cars and trucks. “It’s the classic ‘disruption from below’. Start with something that’s frankly worse but cheaper, and work your way up from there as the technology gets better.”

To prove that its sodium ion chemistry can replace lead acid in starter batteries, Bedrock Materials is producing materials for third-party testing. To fund the venture, the company recently raised a $9 million seed round, the company exclusively told TechCrunch. The round was led by Trucks Venture Capital, Refactor Capital and Version One Ventures.

The startup also recently opened a research and development facility in Chicago, a city that doesn’t have many battery startups. But Gore, who previously worked at Tesla and battery materials startup Enovix, steered the company to Illinois in part because the cost of living there is significantly cheaper than in Silicon Valley.

At Enovix, he noticed a trend among recruits that stuck with him: “We basically had a bimodal talent distribution of fresh new grads who didn’t mind having five roommates, and then vice presidents who didn’t even live here – “They just came in for the week and the flight back home,” he said.

Battery scientists, on the other hand, are usually in the middle of their careers. They typically have a PhD and a postdoc, and when they get a job in industry, “they’re 31 years old,” Gore said. “It just wouldn’t work for them in the Bay Area.”

It also doesn’t hurt that the Chicago suburbs are home to Argonne National Labs, where years of research have significantly advanced sodium-ion batteries. Now Gore believes it’s ready to bring it to market.

Other battery makers agree that the time for sodium ions has come. Chinese battery manufacturer CATL has been producing sodium-ion batteries for several years, and Chinese company BYD and Swedish company Northvolt have announced their own plans to expand sodium-ion production lines. By the end of the decade, 150 gigawatt hours of production capacity is expected to come online, most of it in China.

China’s interest in sodium ions should be a wake-up call for other producers, Gore said. “We have seen the Chinese cell manufacturers very quickly commercialize sodium ion technology, and we have seen them abandon non-Chinese cell manufacturers when it comes to lithium iron phosphate. The obvious question is: “Will this happen again with sodium ions?” he said. He said companies like Panasonic and LG had learned their lesson. “They don’t want to be left in the dust again.”

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