Carmakers grapple with conflicting goals in designing electric-car batteries. They want high energy density for long range, but they also want to reduce the costly metals that provide that capacity.
Michigan battery startup Our Next Energy (ONE) claims to have a better way to optimize across all these factors. Now, BMW will fit an early prototype of ONE’s Gemini “Dual-Chemistry” battery into a test version of its iX EV luxury SUV to see if the claims—a heady 600 miles of range, nearly double the stock iX xDrive50’s EPA range estimates—are borne out in a variety of real-world uses. The test iX will be on the road by the end of this year, both companies say.
BMW is the logical vehicle partner to test ONE’s technology, because its investment arm—BMW i Ventures—was one of several backers in a $25 million round of financing for the battery startup last October.
Traction + Long Range
The Dual-Chemistry label on ONE’s Gemini battery refers to the pairing of two different types of battery cells, each with a different purpose.
The “Traction” portion has cells that use a lithium iron-phosphate (LFP) cathode, known to have a lower energy density than chemistries based on cobalt, nickel, manganese, or aluminum. LFP batteries are rare in North America, but common in Chinese EVs. Their use of cheap and easily available iron in the cathode leads battery analysts to suggest LFP cells will surge in popularity as their energy density rises, even though it remains below that of advanced cobalt-nickel cells.
The “Long Range” portion of ONE’s Gemini battery, on the other hand, uses a higher energy-density chemistry based on a proprietary material rich in manganese, with only minimal cobalt and nickel. During the current R&D phase, ONE founder and CEO Mujeeb Ijaz told Car and Driver, the company is still experimenting with blends of the three metals to enhance performance. Unusually, it has only a bare copper current collector—rather than separate anode material—a design known in academic circles as “anode-free.”
The LFP “Traction” cells will provide close to 99 percent of the vehicle’s overall miles, Ijaz said, while the “Long Range” cells kick in for the 1 percent of usage that requires extreme power, reducing stress on and deterioration of the LFP cells.
ONE says it can thus provide a battery with energy density that’s claimed to be double that of those in today’s EVs, while focusing on “safer” and “sustainable” battery chemistries created via a “conflict-free supply chain” that includes appropriately sourced and inexpensive manganese.
Lab Tests, Meet Real World
Hundreds of battery chemistries show at least some promise in lab tests, but far fewer make it into production—or even extended testing. The Gemini-powered BMW iX prototype will hit the road by the end of this year. It will be used as a demonstrator first, to prove the Gemini battery concept can store and deliver energy.
After that, BMW and ONE will work together on further testing. As Ijaz notes, ONE needs to “work with BMW to understand their requirements” for his company to become a long-term supplier. That’s an arduous path, but one every battery startup needs to travel before its products find a market.
The ONE-powered BMW iX will mark a new milestone for the company: Powering an actual vehicle, rather than simply showing bench-test results. The actual cells that will go into this early prototype pack will be fabricated by one or more of four separate supplier partners, both in Asia and North America, that are working with ONE on prototyping and production scale-up of its new cells.
When the iX is shown to run, charge, and cover the promised distances, ONE will have moved a large step away from its press stunt last December. In that effort, which ONE called a proof of concept, it stuffed cells with twice the energy capacity as a standard Tesla Model S into that car’s pack and ran it for more than 750 miles—or twice the usual range.
But those weren’t Gemini cells, whereas the BMW iX coming by the end of the year is expected to use very early and experimental versions of ONE’s new cells. This will count as definite progress, presuming it happens on schedule. Stay tuned.
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