The ability to sort through thousands of materials combinations and incorporate them into complete battery cells “is pretty impressive,” says Jeff Dahn, a professor of physics at Dalhousie University who uses high-throughput methods to study battery materials. “They’ve come a long way in a short time,” he says.
Wildcat was founded in 2006 and has raised $16.5 million in venture funding. It also has revenue from more than 40 research projects with major manufacturers. Its founders include Peter Schultz, a professor at the Scripps Research Institute and a pioneer of high-throughput combinatorial chemistry.
Battery cells using Wildcat’s new materials would store about 60 percent more energy by volume than lithium iron phosphate cells, one type being used by electric vehicle makers. Compared to some higher-energy batteries that could be in next-generation electric vehicles, such as those that use a mix of nickel, manganese, and cobalt, the new materials could yield an energy increase of more than 25 percent by volume, Kaye says.
It’s not clear how the materials will affect overall battery cost. The improvement in capacity will lower costs, and the higher voltage of the cells will simplify wiring in battery packs, which will also reduce costs, but the use of cobalt will make them more expensive than lithium iron phosphate. To reduce costs, the company is working on electrode materials that substitute nickel for cobalt.
The new electrolyte formulations that the company has developed could open the possibility of using other relatively high-voltage electrode materials, including a class of materials called fluorophosphates that, when paired with high-performance opposite electrodes, could as much as double battery capacity, Kaye says.
The company is currently producing test batches of its new materials and is hoping to license the technology to materials and battery companies, but the durability of the materials still needs to be improved. After 150 charging cycles, the capacity of the electrode material has decreased by 20 percent. For use in portable electronics, the battery needs to last for a few hundred cycles. For electric cars, the battery must retain 80 percent of its storage capacity for thousands of cycles.