Dual chemistry batteries unlock 600+ mile range capability

ONE’s work on iron-phosphate and dual chemistry batteries promises to address ongoing challenges for the electric automotive industry. By Will Girling

Innovative automakers like Tesla have helped launch electric vehicles (EVs) into the mainstream and establish them as viable mobility options. This push for credibility characterised the first phase of electrification—defined by McLaren Applied as from the early 2000s to late 2010s—and has now given way to the second phase, where practically every OEM is either selling or developing an EV.

However, despite making large gains, the e-mobility sector faces ongoing challenges relating to battery technology. From socio-economic factors disrupting raw material sourcing and pushing up prices to performance deficits and safety concerns about overheating, current gen battery chemistries are far from optimal.

Prioritising LFP

In early 2020, Mujeeb Ijaz, previously Manager of Electric and Fuel Cell Engineering at Ford and Senior Director of Energy Storage at Apple, considered three ongoing challenges facing battery technology: range, chemistry, and supply chains. Not long after, Ijaz founded Our Next Energy (ONE) in Michigan and became its Chief Executive in order to resolve these crucial issues.

“EV batteries today are still highly susceptible to their driving environment—cold weather can halve the EPA-rated range of a car,” Ijaz tells Automotive World. “Redefining the real-world range of an EV was the first big opportunity I identified.” In his view, 600 miles should be the goal—double the industry standard. However, the only liquid electrolyte battery chemistries offering close to this performance are nickel/cobalt compositions. “With these you have risks of thermal runaway, high costs, and ethical sourcing issues,” he adds. Subsequently, ONE opted to develop EV batteries without these metals and focused on utilising domestic North American supply chains.

Instead, the company’s Aries range of batteries for heavy (Aries I) and light (Aries II) vehicles use a lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) composition. This chemistry’s low rate of self-heating and the abundance of iron in the US resolves many of the safety, cost, and supply issues of nickel and cobalt. However, there is a trade-off: Ijaz notes that LFP generally matches only 60-70% of a standard lithium nickel-manganese-cobalt cell’s range performance. To compensate, the company increased the cell-to-pack volume to more than 70%—by comparison, the Tesla Model 3’s LFP battery is around only 32%, while Volkswagen’s and GM’s are at 45%. This results in a single-charge range of more than 150 miles for the Aries I and 350 miles for the Aries II.

Dual chemistry

While ONE’s LFP batteries enabled it to tackle two of Ijaz’s identified challenges, the 600-mile target range remained elusive. “To achieve that, we latched onto a second idea: divide the battery into two parts,” he explains. In this scenario, one cell would still be used for most driving use cases. However, a specialised DC-DC converter allows energy from a second cell to be seamlessly transferred to the first when a range boost is required.

ONE’s eventual product—Gemini—is a dual chemistry battery that combines a 441-watt hour per litre (Wh/L) LFP cell with a 1,007Wh/L manganese anode-free cell. The former provides a 150-mile range that Ijaz calls adequate for “99% of EV usage,” while the latter delivers an extra 450 miles for longer distance driving. Real-world testing has pushed this performance even further. In June 2022, ONE signed a demo agreement to integrate a Gemini battery into the BMW iX SUV, resulting in a confirmed range of 752 miles on a single charge.

Dual chemistry batteries like Gemini, Ijaz states, solve the energy density to durability trade-offs with which most existing EV batteries must contend. “Even though chemistries will inevitably change in the 2030s, the dual architecture could remain relevant for decades afterwards,” he asserts. One drawback is cost: Ijaz concedes that the DC-DC converter alone costs US$2,000 per unit. “However, we also integrated functions like voltage and temperature monitoring, cell balancing, and charging software in one device.” As such, he claims that this consolidated battery management system keeps the dollars per kilowatt-hour ratio close to standard lithium-ion. Furthermore, by using no cobalt, 75% less nickel, and 20% less lithium, the Gemini’s total supply chain is also cheaper and easier to access.

A multitude of chemistries

Ijaz emphasises that cultivating industry interest and engagement for different battery chemistries remains a priority. In February 2023, ONE secured US$300m in a Series B round that drew investment from BMW iVentures among others. The company’s North American material supply chains also mean that it can capitalise on key Inflation Reduction Act incentives. However, with its dual battery technology not yet ready for mass production, the company is opting for a three-tier roadmap starting with truck and bus, progressing to grid energy storage, and finally the broader automotive industry. In addition to BMW, ONE has relationships with three other automakers—the details of which are not yet public.

“We’re pretty far ahead of schedule in that journey,” says Ijaz. “Our battery isn’t waiting for a new chemistry breakthrough; it’s more about system integration. In 2023, I expect to have multiple demonstrations of 600-mile EV options using Gemini.” With range anxiety still a common customer blocker to EV adoption, he is confident that the substantial range boost of dual chemistry batteries can convince automakers to take on the added complexity. “If the market can provide a variety of range options, the industry can note which batteries customers gravitate towards. Then, instead of ‘should I buy an EV’, customers will be asking themselves ‘which EV should I buy?’”

Dual batteries provide the best of both worlds: stability and room for innovation

Therefore, the battery market in 2030 and beyond could be characterised by variety instead of consolidation. If dual chemistry batteries prevail, Ijaz anticipates that LFP will become the most widely used primary cell, due to its cheap manufacturing costs, safety, and high durability. However, the second cell will provide the industry an opportunity to experiment with alternatives. “We could see new iterations up to every three years,” he suggests. “Dual batteries provide the best of both worlds: stability and room for innovation.” More importantly, ONE’s example demonstrates that nickel and cobalt chemistries prevalent today do not represent a developmental dead-end. By reconsidering the fundamentals of design, application, and material sourcing, new batteries can effectively address the needs of customers and the broader automotive industry.

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