Sila Nanotechnologies, a Company Founded by Former Tesla Engineer, Buys U.S. Factory to Produce Next-Gen Silicon-based EV Battery Materials

Sila Nanotechnologies, a Company Founded by Former Tesla Engineer, Buys U.S. Factory to Produce Next-Gen Silicon-based EV Battery Materials

Author: Eric Walz   

California-based electric vehicle battery developer Sila Nanotechnologies Inc announced the purchase of a new factory in Washington state where its plans to churn out advanced batteries for hundreds of thousands of EVs by 2026, the company announced on Tuesday. 

The 600,000-square-foot factory located in Moses Lake, Washington, will start producing automotive-scale quantities of Sila's silicon-based battery technology by the second half of 2024, with full production underway in early 2025. The facility will also produce advanced batteries for consumer electronics.

The new facility in Washington state will serve Sila's existing joint ventures with automakers, BMW and Daimler, as well as other industry partnerships noy yet publicly named, according to Sila's co-founder and CEO Gene Berdichevsky. 

"The U.S has always excelled at innovation. Now we must also excel at manufacturing that innovation, said Berdichevsky. "Sila is delivering proven next-generation anode materials today. Our new Washington state plant builds on that momentum offering the manufacturing capacity to meet the needs of our auto partners on their way to a fully electric future."

Berdichevsky is a former Tesla engineer who led the technical development of the battery technology for the Tesla Roadster, which was the company's first vehicle. According to TechCrunch, he was the seventh employee at Tesla and one of the first to successfully integrate a lithium-ion battery into an internal combustion engine vehicle, which was the Lotus Elise chassis that the Roadster was built on. Tesla produced the original Roadster from 2008 to 2012 before launching the Model S.

After leaving Tesla in 2008, Berdichevsky founded Sila in Aug 2011 with the goal of building lighter and higher energy density lithium-ion batteries to help spur the mass adoption of electric vehicles, as well as for broader use of renewable power sources. For the past decade, Sila has been working on its advanced silicon battery chemistry for EV batteries.  

Sila works directly with automotive OEMs to help accelerate their product roadmaps. Sila alos partners with leading battery manufacturers, such as Amperex Technology Limited (ATL), for commercial cell production.  

Sila announced a partnership with automaker BMW in March 2018 on the development of next-generation EV batteries.

Daimler, now officially rebranded as Mercedes-Benz, acquired a minority equity stake in Sila in April 2019 as part of its research and development of advanced batteries for its future electric vehicles.

Also in 2019, Sila Nano announced its hired Kurt Kelty, who served as Tesla's Senior Director of Battery Technology for over a decade. While at Tesla, Kelty was instrumental in setting up the company's joint venture battery factory in Nevada with Panasonic. He now serves as Sila's VP of Commercialization.

Berdichevsky estimates that Sila's battery technology will make it into production vehicles anywhere from the end of 2025 to the end of 2026, depending on how long it takes automakers to validate the new technology, which Sila says can take anywhere from six to 18 months.

Sila's Silicon-based Nanotechnology for Electric Vehicle Batteries

Sila's advanced battery chemistry uses "silicon-based nanoparticles" for the high capacity anode material of lithium-ion batteries. These silicon nanoparticles replace the graphite in a battery cell's anode, allowing for the production of lower cost and more energy-dense battery packs, according to Sila. Silicon nanoparticles have almost ten times the theoretical energy capacity of the graphite materials most commonly used in lithium batteries.

Sila is working to replace a battery's conventional graphite electrodes entirely with its proprietary and low cost silicon-dominant composite materials. The company has filed over 100 patents for its battery technology. 

Silo Nano says that its materials can improve the energy density of today's batteries by 20% and as much as 40% in the future as the technology improves, which translates into longer ranges for EVs. 

More importantly, Sila's silicon battery materials are designed to be a "drop-in" replacement for graphite in existing lithium-ion factories. The silicon-based anode coatings can be applied using the current lithium ion battery production process, making it possible to scale the technology using existing battery manufacturing lines.

The new Washington facility, which is powered by hydropower, will be able to deliver 10 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of capacity annually when used as a full graphite replacement, or 50 GWh when using silicon as a partial replacement for graphite. It's enough material to power batteries in up to 100,000 to 500,000 electric vehicles and 500 million mobile phones annually, Sila said.

"Our energy independence and economic prosperity are tied to our ability to develop and manufacture new clean energy technologies here on American soil," said Washington Governor Jay Inslee. "I'm proud that Washington state has been a leader on this issue and even prouder that innovative companies like Sila come here to advance these clean energy solutions."

Although the use of inexpensive silicon could eventually eliminate the use of graphite-based anode materials, the use of silicon-nanocoatings for a battery's anode material also reduces swelling or expansion during charging. 

Traditional graphite anode materials in EV batteries have a tendency to swell while being charged, which can eventually lead to damage to the battery cells and shorten a battery's service life. However, Sila's silicon-based anode materials are porous enough to accommodate this expansion, thereby preventing damage to the cells. 

The use of silicon nanotechnology also improves solid-electrolyte-interphase ("SEI") & cycle life. SEI is a process in which a microscopic coating forms on the electrode surfaces inside the battery from the decomposition of the electrolytes, which are created after repeated cycles of recharging and discharging after manufacturing as part of the break-in process. 

SEI is considered a normal part of a new battery's break-in process, which helps batteries to better maintain their charge. However, its formation is actually considered a defect of modern EV batteries, contributing to electrode surface instability, which leads to battery degradation over time.

Sila is backed by top-tier investors including 8VC, Amperex Technology Limited, Bessemer Venture Partners, Chengwei Capital, Matrix Partners, Next47, Samsung and Sutter Hill Ventures. 

In Jan 2021, Sila announced that it raised $590 million Series F funding, giving the company a $3.3 billion post-money valuation. 

The news of Sila's planned battery factory comes a day after the Biden administration announced $3.1 billion in funds toward supporting the domestic production of batteries for electric vehicles to reduce the reliance on Asian suppliers.

A Sila spokesperson told TechCrunch the company is currently reviewing the Department of Energy funds announcement and will likely apply, assuming Sila meets the eligibility requirements to receive the government funding.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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