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Amprius opens its first factory to help send electric aircraft aloft

Friday, June 2, 2023

Amprius makes high energy-density batteries that power drones and even aircraft from Airbus. The company is opening its first factory to help send electric aircraft aloft.

The 15-year-old company has won customers that include British defense giant BAE Systems and Airbus, the world’s largest aircraft maker. Within a few years, Amprius expects its batteries to power flying vehicles.

“Now they barely fly something like 15-20 minutes, of which about 4 minutes is the takeoff and then landing,” Amprius CTO Ionel Stefan told EE Times. “That’s a range of about 20 or 30 miles with the best flying cars—with batteries that are around 300 watthours per kilogram. With 400 to 500 watthours, this range can be extended to 100 to 200 miles. Imagine how much more application you can get from a flying car: those 20 miles, just a little hop, now going to 100 or 200 miles.”

Amprius’ actions highlight a larger effort to shore up another weakness in the U.S. electronics supply chain that includes semiconductors and printed circuit boards. The global electric vehicle (EV) battery market, worth $50 billion in 2021, is expected to more than quadruple to $226 billion by 2030, according to Polaris Market research.

Stefan envisions a day when Amprius batteries will power airborne shuttles that jump hundreds of miles from one transportation hub to another. One likely location for trials is Silicon Valley, served by three international airports.

“You have San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland,” Stefan predicted. “With a short aerial jump, you can get from one to another in 15 minutes at most. It will be much better than by car, which takes an hour or so.”

The company is entering a growing industry already crowded with startups and established rivals like Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) of China, which has about 35% of the global EV battery market. CATL and smaller rivals are experimenting with new battery materials to replace lithium, which is expensive, difficult to refine and harmful to the environment.

Amprius has developed a silicon-anode material.

“It is a lithium-ion battery in function,” Stefan said. “Silicon itself has a capacity that’s about 10 times as high as graphite in storing lithium. If we replace only this component, we are easily achieving anywhere between 80% to over 100% improvement over graphite.”

One of the main advantages of silicon is that the anode is much thinner than with graphite, allowing very fast charging, Stefan said.

“Pure silicon is very high capability, and we have demonstrated five-minute charging capability for some cell designs,” he added.

In air transportation applications, batteries must charge quickly because vehicles will fly as many as 12 roundtrips each day, landing and departing in 15 minutes. Usually, one trip will consume one battery charge.

High ratings

The company’s gravimetric and volumetric ratings—energy per kilogram and energy per volume—are what make Amprius a standout, Sandy Munro, an EV-industry expert, told EE Times.

“They’ve got some charts out that are that are actually stunning on their gravimetric,” he said. “This is what you’re going to use for airplanes. This is definitely something that’s going to kick the daylights out of everything else.”

Amprius’ commercially available batteries deliver up to 500 Wh/kg and 1,150 Wh/L, for the industry’s highest known energy density, the company said. Even so, CATL has announced similar performance in new batteries for flying vehicles.

Amprius’ gravimetric numbers are twice as good as the best EV batteries from Tesla, Munro said, whose company, Munro & Associates, has worked as a consultant for Mercedes-Benz and other automakers in Asia and the U.S., including Tesla.

Still, Amprius faces strong competition from new rivals like Sakuu, a California-based solid-state battery maker.

“Amprius is my favorite, but not far behind that is Sakuu,” Munro said. He also mentioned QuantumScape and Solid Power. The startup companies face still more competition from established manufacturers like CATL and Build Your Dreams (BYD) of China, as well as automakers like Stellantis and General Motors.

“There’s a huge ramp up going on inside the U.S.,” Munro said, noting the $1.6 billion Our Next Energy plant announced last year in Detroit. “They’re getting tons of orders.”

Amprius is one of several silicon anode manufacturers globally that’s entering a phase of commercial growth and manufacturing scale-up, Rory McNulty, co-author of the “Solid-state and lithium metal batteries report” for Benchmark Webinars, told EE Times.

“As is the case today with the cathode market, there is room for many next-generation technologies to be successful,” he said. “This includes silicon anodes and solid-state batteries.”

Amprius is building its first battery factory in Brighton, Colo.

“It’s very scalable—up to a few gigawatt hours,” Stefan said. “We will start with the level of about half a gigawatt hour.”

The company expects to begin production in 2025. Under U.S. President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Law, the U.S. Department of Energy has provided Amprius a $50 million award for the new facility.

In five years or so, when the company’s large-scale manufacturing is proven, it’s possible that Amprius will partner with larger battery manufacturers to expand production, Stefan said.


The size of Chinese battery makers like CATL and BYD will be an impediment to the growth of rivals, Munro said, noting that CATL expects to triple in size by 2030.

“This just puts them so far ahead of everybody else—LG, BYD, Samsung, Panasonic, Tesla, all the other guys. I don’t know how anybody’s going to catch up to them.”

CATL in April introduced a condensed-matter battery that could power electric passenger aircraft, Reuters reported. The battery with condensed electrolyte and new anode materials will have an energy density of 500 Wh/kg, the report said. That number is comparable to the energy density of Amprius batteries.

The incumbents aren’t standing still with technology development. Automaker BYD is focused on LFP (lithium iron phosphate) but also exploring sodium-ion batteries.

For Amprius, the best chance to grow is in defense, Munro said.

“That’s where Amprius is kicking everybody’s tail because they’re already selling batteries to Airbus and the French defense ministry. The French have an aircraft that goes for 64, 65 days without a charge. It’s used as a weather satellite for now, but it’ll be a spy satellite.”

By: DocMemory
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