Business Solution

Business Solutions To Battery Safety

Brian Morin, CEO, Soteria Battery Innovation Group. Manager of LithiumSAFE, a conference to promote dialogue on battery safety.

“Everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” This is part of the Miranda Rights that we all know so well from television. But it is also true in civil law and even in the markets.

When it comes to battery safety, the stakes are high—running into the billions of dollars. Businesses that end up on the bad side of a battery safety event can be anxious and hiding their dialogue behind lawyers and public relations firms. On the other hand, companies with a potential solution tend to oversell—with some going so far as to capture the value of their potential solution through stock sales before it is even proven in the market.

Businesses that are affected by battery safety include battery producers like Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., consumer electronics device manufacturers like Lenovo and electric vehicle manufacturers like Volkswagen, Tesla, Lucid and General Motors—as well as everyone who uses their products.

Consider the following perspectives:

• General Motors: GM has stated that its future relies on the sale of electric vehicles. Yet, in 2021, they were forced to recall their flagship electric vehicle (EV) with a battery replacement cost of $1.8 billion. The true cost came when they pulled the vehicle from the market. The recall of the Bolt, which sold over 100,000 vehicles globally between 2014 to 2020, left GM selling only 26 EVs in the fourth quarter of 2021, 457 in the first quarter of this year, then rebounding to 7,217 in the second quarter. Their communication is that the Bolts in the field are still safe to operate, but they ask owners to avoid parking them too near buildings or other vehicles.

• LG Energy Solutions: LG made the batteries for the Bolt, and is footing the bill to replace them. They placed the blame on two very rare manufacturing defects that caused latent shorts inside the battery. Having fixed those, their batteries are now deemed safe again. These same batteries led to recalls at both Hyundai and Ford.

Both companies—facing a loss of business, damage to customer relationships and a tarnishing of their reputation in the market—are likely understating the problem. Now consider another perspective on the side of solution providers.

• Solid Power: Solid Power is a solid-state battery company backed by Hyundai, Ford and BMW. They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and over a decade developing a solution to battery fires and went public at a valuation of $1.2 billion in December 2021. But they are in the unfortunate situation of not yet being able to deliver a product, and it will likely be several more years before the first cars hit the road with their batteries.

• QuantumScape: QuantumScape is another solid-state battery company, this time backed by Volkswagen, that went public at a valuation of $3.3 billion in November 2021. Spending and development time is roughly equivalent to Solid Power, and they are on a similar path to have products on the market. They claim their product to be better than Solid Power’s, but they are not as far along in terms of cell size and ability to produce samples for automotive evaluation.

Both of these companies would like to have you believe that the current technology, lithium-ion batteries with liquid electrolytes, will never solve the battery safety problem. Instead, their solid-state batteries are the only solution. There are many other companies that are providing potential solutions to battery fires, including sensors, switches, software solutions, insulating materials and other non-flammable materials. Most promote themselves as the only solution, rather than a piece of a bigger solution.

Why Can’t We Talk?

The challenge is the size of the problem and the size of the market opportunity that exists as long as we can pretend the problem is small. If there was no such thing as a battery fire, then some very large companies will make billions of dollars. Battery fires threaten to derail these companies’ profts, so the discussion of them is minimized.

But the media is full of hundreds of reports of battery fires—from scooters to lithium batteries at waste facilities—and the problem doesn’t appear to be going away. The market is demanding that more energy be placed into each cell in order to give a better range for products like electric vehicles. The market is also demanding that the cells accept their charge more quickly, which stresses the battery.

The result of this is that the small companies shout that they have the solution, and the big companies whisper that there is no problem.

The Solution

The real solution can be seen through an analogy to safety in internal combustion engine cars. When shoulder harnesses were developed, people didn’t stop using lap belts. The same for airbags, passenger airbags, anti-lock brakes, collision detection, rear cameras, etc. Each solution is additive, and together they have made driving very safe.

For EV batteries, it will be the same. Sensors will be used by the software. Safe separators and electrolytes will complement the dividers and other safety materials outside the battery. Solid state batteries still burn and will need solutions as well. When taken together, these solutions will make EVs far safer than ever could have been achieved when the source of power is fire itself, that is, internal combustion engines.

What Can You Do?

Whatever your business, you likely use multiple battery-powered electronic devices like computers, cell phones, forklifts or electric vehicles. If so, then there are several steps you can take toward being a part of the integrated solution to battery safety:

• Purchase wisely. Purchase from brands that hold very high safety standards.

• Enter the dialogue. Ask your suppliers how safety is designed into their devices and why their devices are safer than their competitors.

• Get advice. If your company purchases large numbers of a particular device then hire an outside expert to get advice on the battery safety. Don’t take it for granted.

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