Jeff Norris, CEO and founder at Paraclete Energy, answers our questions on the trajectory of the fast-moving electric vehicle industry and shares his insights into the key role that the battery industry is playing here.
Tell us a bit about Paraclete Energy.
Before I do that, let’s state some battery and electric vehicle reality. If car manufacturers are going to reach their goals for 2020 and beyond, they are going to have to use high-capacity silicon metal at 3,575 mAh/g in their batteries. Right now, the industry is using silicon oxide or SiOx which only achieves 1,550 mAh/g and can only replace about 5% of the graphite. SiOx was the initial silicon material used by Li-ion battery manufacturers because it offered a capacity improvement over graphite alone and was cheaper to use than silicon metal. Additionally, the oxide on the surface made the particle air stable for manufacturing and helped with cycle stability by slowing SEI reactions, but just for the initial cycles. However, now much, much better surface chemistry is available than oxide to make the considerably higher-capacity silicon metal air stable and abundantly more stable than silicon oxide.
Now stating that history let’s talk about Paraclete Energy. We manufacture nanoparticle 3,575 mAh/g silicon metal for the graphite and Li-ion battery industry. Paraclete can manufacture tons of many types of nanoparticle silicon metal – our primary silicon product is SM-Silicon. The SM stands for Surface Modified. This surface modifier functions as an artificial SEI that negates the effects of electrolyte interaction and thereby enables both cycle stability approaching that of graphite and very high loadings of silicon well beyond the ~5% limit of silicon oxide. The cycle stability of SM-Silicon acts to compound the benefits to customers given now they can replace five times as much graphite with a silicon metal that has over double the capacity of silicon oxide. Paraclete’s SM-Silicon can be priced from a $/kWh perspective at less than graphite. The surface modifier is also what makes Paraclete Energy’s silicon safe to handle in a battery manufacturing facility.
We are also introducing prelithiated SM-Silicon/PL™, which is both air and water stable. This new SM-Silicon/PL™ can be seamlessly integrated into customer’s standard aqueous slurry techniques. Because the anode active material will be prelithiated, a great deal of time which is normally allocated for formation cycling will be saved.
SM-Silicon/PL™ will enable a higher first cycle efficiency, and, given the reduced time normally required for formation, a much lower cost and a much speedier production time.
Another area we are finding popular with our prospects and customers is Paraclete Energy’s Rapid Prototyping Services, which enable our customers to expeditiously test and validate their Li-ion batteries with Paraclete’s high capacity, high solids loading SM-Silicon™ metal and SM-Silicon/PL™ which enables air and water stable prelithiation of the anode’s active material.
When we work with the customer, we will use our Rapid High Precision Coulometry to accurately predict the lifetime of their cells within weeks, not months. We are going to compare highly engineered binder, cathode, graphite, and electrolyte systems with their preferred off-the-shelf systems, so that they can see the full benefit they could potentially receive by having their batteries include Paraclete’s SM-Silicon™ products.
Paraclete Energy’s existing customers range from graphite companies (to enable them to integrate SM-Silicon into their offerings in order to offer a premium, high-capacity product), to users, OEMs, and manufacturers of batteries.
Which customer or market demands were the biggest drivers of your company’s growth during the past three years?
Without a doubt, Paraclete Energy’s prospects and customers are stating that they need to compete with the emerging and proven thought leaders on this new electric vehicle stage. Their previously very popular and high-margin gasoline-powered vehicles from these top global luxury car manufacturers are being threatened by the very attractive, sexy, and popular electric vehicles. They can no longer lose market share to these emerging and new competitors. As a result, they have very aggressive plans to up the ante by offering both very compelling electric vehicles for the luxury buyer as well as the general market. They are all looking to get to the >400 mile EV.
The current materials used in batteries, including silicon oxide will not get them there. They must transition to using much higher-capacity silicon metal and they must use far more silicon per battery than the limits that silicon oxide can do. This is Paraclete Energy’s sweet spot and where our product takes them to where the market must go in order to meet their 2020 goals and beyond, and we can do this today!
Do you anticipate that those demands will continue to be your biggest growth drivers for the next three years?
Electric and autonomous vehicles are not only here but their growth rate is no longer linear; it will soon grow nearly exponentially from historical rates. Whether it is the new competitive landscape or legislation and incentives, or the cultural and infrastructure change that has arrived, electric vehicles represent the biggest market for Paraclete Energy’s industry-standard, cycle-stable, high-capacity silicon metal products. Granted, we will also see growth in our SM-Silicon sales for stationary storage and distributed energy and green energy storage areas and the UAV, military, and other high-capacity-dependent applications, but nothing like the growth in SM-Silicon sales that we are seeing for electric vehicles.
What are your areas of R&D focus?
Prelithiation and very high loadings of cycle-stable silicon. Prelithiation is very appealing because, unlike many standard battery improvement techniques which fight for a fraction-of-a-percent performance increase, any percentage gain from prelithiation is gained as a 1:1 ratio towards overall battery energy density. Additionally, with adequate prelithiation no formation cycles that dramatically slow the production process down will be required, thereby cutting the time to manufacture batteries significantly which has a dramatic positive impact on reducing cost and an equal impact on increasing the total annual manufacturing capacity of the facility. Prelithiation should bring about a cost-reduction shift across the entire industry, or at least to those that embrace it. We are also always endeavouring to increase the amount of silicon in cells to replace graphite while maintaining or improving the cycle stability that we see with the 25% SM-Silicon that our customers are implementing today.
What new trends do you anticipate and what market demands do you see evolving/changing over the next five years?
As high-capacity, cycle-stable batteries become the norm and ubiquitous, we will see electric vehicles embraced by the mass market beyond the early adopters. We will see many more applications for consumer devices and electronic commerce and medical devices that were never contemplated previously, yet enabled because of the switch to high-capacity silicon metal away from low-capacity silicon oxide. We will see the electricity grid convert more to DC current; carbon-based fuels will become backup energy rather than primary energy. We will see this new DC-distributed grid extend to parts of the world that have little or no stable electricity today.
What are the key challenges and opportunities currently faced by the industry?
Many players in any emerging industry are encumbered by their status quo and end up being too late to the game given this albatross way of thinking and not appreciating that time-to-market is much more important in today’s economy than the perfect product.
Did the PC manufacturers see the impact of the web, tablets, or smart phones? Did Kodak understand the impact of digital photography and smart phones, did Motorola see the Apple iPhone coming, AND, did the European and Japanese luxury gasoline-powered high-margin car market see the Tesla EV coming or initially take the threat seriously?
We are here again, the competitive landscape has changed, and we cannot wait for the “perfect” EV. This industry does not need to make the perfect [EV], they just need to compete with what is already being purchased by their former customers. The technology exists today to do that and to overcome buyer’s anxiety that is keeping the masses from buying electric vehicles. But the industry must embrace it now else these new carnivorous competitors will own the lion’s share of the electric vehicle industry.
What is your company’s approach to strategic partnerships or joint ventures?
Paraclete means: “to come alongside”. We work alongside battery manufacturers to enable them to produce the highest-energy, longest-lasting batteries. Paraclete Energy is working to help the overall industry by making its silicon metal available to everyone, including its competitors, and to graphite companies so they can purchase it as an additive for premium graphite products that contain high-capacity, cycle-stable SM-Silicon.
What products will you be featuring at The Battery Show Europe?
Paraclete Energy will be demonstrating how its SM-Silicon can boost batteries to more than double the capacity of commercially available silicon oxide. The product is safe to handle by battery manufacturers and dollar per kilowatt-hour costs [are] equal to or less than graphite. Not only that, but SM-Silicon decreases electrolyte reactivity while increasing coulombic efficiency approaching that of graphite, enabling very high loadings of SM-Silicon while achieving best-in-class cycle stability.
Paraclete will also feature services for custom designing and making cycle-stable, high-capacity SM-Silicon-based batteries so that customers can test and prototype their next-generation products. Paraclete’s SM-Silicon when combined with these services enables our customers’ next-generation products and batteries to be prototyped and brought to market sooner.
Paraclete Energy will also be featuring its pre-lithiation-based products to appropriate prospects.
Why are you exhibiting and what connections do you hope to make at the show?
European automobile manufacturers are grasping the future as it relates to electric vehicles and as a result are acting on this reality. Additionally, their product plans are very attractive and compelling. The European legislative environment has made it much easier to transition to the electric vehicle. We foresee spending a great deal of time in Europe to include building a silicon manufacturing facility in the area to support the growth in electric vehicles. We look forward to reconnecting with colleagues and exploring new connections. We also recognise the EU is a gateway to the Asian markets.
The Battery Show has become the must-attend event for the industry. It is the only show that is attended by executive decision makers and the scientific and engineering geniuses who are creating new and exciting technology. So we look forward to renewing old acquaintances and meeting new industry players at every level.
Visit Paraclete Energy at The Battery Show Europe at stand #203