Umicore steps up solid-state battery technology development with investment in Blue Current
Umicore and Blue Current, a leading manufacturer of silicon elastic composite solid-state batteries, have agreed to strengthen their collaboration on the development of solid-state battery technology, with Umicore investing a minority stake in the U.S.-based start-up. This investment complements the joint development agreement (JDA) whereby both parties were able to integrate Umicore’s battery materials in Blue Current’s solid-state battery technology. By providing capital - in addition to supplying state-of-the-art battery materials under the JDA - Umicore intends to work with Blue Current to drive market adoption of the company’s unique silicon elastic composite battery towards mid-decade.
Blue Current is a chemistry-led technology company focused on delivering on the promise of solid-state batteries for automotive and non-automotive markets where safety, energy density and performance are most critical. The company has its origins at Lawrence Berkeley and Argonne National Laboratories, UC Berkeley and the University of North Carolina. Blue Current has been working exclusively in the area of silicon anodes with completely dry composite electrolytes since 2018, and it has extensive intellectual property in this area.
“Umicore is looking forward to taking the next step in our collaboration with Blue Current on solid-state battery technologies and build on the first promising outcome during a year of joint research,” said Stéphane Levasseur, Senior Innovation Director New Business Incubation at Umicore. “Such agreements complement other research efforts in the battery materials ecosystem and across the value chain – from R&D to our end-customers – reinforcing our lead in current and future battery materials technologies to best serve an industry that is transforming at an unseen speed.”
“Blue Current is excited to expand our joint development with Umicore through this investment,” said Kevin Wujcik, Chief Technology Officer at Blue Current. “Over the last year we’ve been working together to validate the compatibility of our respective solid-state battery technologies and have made great progress. The commercial success of solid-state batteries will require active materials and solid electrolytes that are specifically designed to work together. This partnership is critical to the development of such next generation materials.”
“The promise of solid electrolytes is to enable electrodes that cannot cycle in liquid electrolytes”, said Nitash Balsara, cofounder of Blue Current, Senior Faculty Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and Professor of Electrochemistry in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California. “In particular the use of a composite solid electrolyte to enable silicon cycling is compelling given the high capacity of this material.”
Solid-state batteries will have a number of benefits compared to current lithium-ion battery technologies with liquid electrolytes. Their composite electrolytes and silicon anodes allow for electric vehicle (EV) designers to create smaller, lighter, and lower-cost battery packs with greater safety at the cell level and higher energy density at the cell and system level. This also increases the driving range of EVs and speeds up charging, which are critical benefits for end-customers.
Umicore’s roadmap for rechargeable battery materials spans short-, mid- and long-term research horizons for cathode and silicon-based anodes, including those used in solid-state technologies. In parallel with its own research and inhouse work, Umicore develops technologies with third parties, like start-ups and scale- ups, as well as academic organizations.
As a circular materials technology company, innovation is at the core of Umicore’s success. The Group is in a leading position in the development of cathode active materials, anodes and catholytes for solid-state batteries, which is reflected by numerous agreements in place with several partners (OEMs, start-ups and the academic sector). In 2021 already, Umicore announced that it holds a stake in Solid Power, a Colorado- based industry-leading developer of next-generation all-solid-state batteries for electric vehicles. In June 2022, Umicore and Idemitsu Kosan Co., Ltd also agreed to jointly develop high-performance catholyte materials for solid-state batteriescombining their respective expertise in cathode active materials and solid electrolytes, with the aim to provide the technological breakthrough to extend the driving range and thereby propel the movement towards greater e-mobility.