Electric cars, renewable energy, household appliances–these large categories all require better batteries if they’re to progress. But we can’t just keep improving the performance of standard lithium-ion batteries, a technology first developed in 1991. They’re near a topping out point. To have longer-lasting EVs and better household gadgets, we need to transition to a different battery chemistry and materials, according to experts.
That’s what Dyson thinks it’s got with Sakti3, a battery startup based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Sakti3 has developed solid-state batteries with double the energy density of standard lithium-ion. Dyson, the vacuum cleaner brand, is investing $20 million to bring the technology through pilot and full manufacturing stages. Within three years, the vacuum giant hopes to have the first cells in its products.
Mark Taylor, Dyson’s head of R&D, explained in an interview that the company spent three months looking deeply at Sakti3’s technology and manufacturing approach. “We just like all aspects of that,” he says.
The startup’s battery is different from a standard lithium-ion battery in several respects. First, it replaces the normal flammable liquid electrolyte with a thin layer of solid material. Second, it has a simpler design, with no cooling mechanisms or additional materials. Third, it takes less than half the space of a standard battery.
Dyson plans to go largely cordless in the future and thinks Sakti3’s batteries will make it possible. “Cordless is emerging as truly viable,” Taylor says. “These stationary cells will allow us to take the cordless products, as well as future robotic Dyson vacuum cleaners, to another level.”
At double the energy density, the batteries will provide either double the run time on a single charge, or double the power. Plus, Sakti3 charge up more quickly because they don’t suffer the same “self-heating effects” of conventional lithium-ion.
Dozens of startups are taking on the vital challenge of better batteries, but not always successfully. Several have struggled to translate promising lab work into commercially-viable products. Another thing separating Sakti3, Taylor says, is its practical approach to reliability and manufacturing.
“Right from the beginning, they were thinking about how it’s going to be made, and that’s how we approach it at Dyson,” he says. “For lean engineering, you have to think about not only the technology and usability, but also the way it’s going to made. Sakti3 really didn’t just set out to make headlines [about] energy density. They found realistic, low-cost manufacturing routes and materials to go into these cells.”
Dyson hopes to be installing the first batteries within about three years, though, it should be said, getting there won’t be easy. Developing batteries is hard and a lot of what Sakti3 is doing is new.