In this episode of Hardware to Save a Planet, Dylan is joined by Moshiel Biton, CEO and Co-founder of Addionics, to discuss Addionics’ 3D battery technology that significantly improves battery performance regardless of the chemistry.
Moshiel is a deep technical expert in the field. He did his Ph.D. in material science at Imperial College London with a focus on batteries. He co-founded Addionics in 2017 with two of his professors. They are one of only twelve winners of the prestigious Bloomberg NEF award for this year.
Addionics is one of the few companies that change the physics of batteries as opposed to their chemistry, thus leading to wide-range socio-economic impacts, decarbonization of energy, reduction of transport pollution, improved air quality, and reduced material waste.
If you want to discover more about the next-generation battery technologies, check the key takeaways of this episode or the transcript below.
- 7:29 – 10:34 – How does a battery work? – We all use batteries to electrify our smartphones, laptops, cars, and many other technologies and devices. It works in a closed energy system, compared to a vehicle engine where you have to inject fuel. A typical battery needs three components to create electricity: anode, cathode, and electrolyte. The chemical reactions in a battery involve the flow of electrical charge between the anode and cathode.
- 10:34 – 16:34 – Inside the next-gen batteries – Addionics’ innovation focuses on changing the structure of the electrodes from a 2D metal structure to a 3D one. The result is an increased metal surface area that can load more material and improve the contact between the active material to the metal. One of the main challenges in batteries is the trade between energy to power. So there is a need to change the thickness of the electrode. The new technology results in higher energy generation, increased lifetime consumption and mechanical reliability, and lower costs.
- 22:48 – 26:25 – The environmental impact – Addionics wants to integrate its technology into any type of application, like energy storage, residential energy storage, grid energy storage, automotive industry, aviation, consumer electronics, and so on. From an environmental perspective, electric vehicles can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution caused by internal combustion engines. The company can also accelerate the adoption of more environmentally friendly materials in various industries at reduced costs.
Dylan Garrett: Hello and welcome to Hardware to Save a Planet. We get to talk about batteries today with Moshiel Biton, CEO and co-founder of Addionics. I’ve been really interested in doing an episode on batteries because they are, of course, key to electrifying a lot of things like cars and trucks. Electrification is critical to decarbonizing our economy. Just taking transportation alone is responsible for something like 20% of emissions globally so that’s the big place batteries can help.
Of course, we already have batteries for some cars and trucks today, but improving their performance, safety, and cost will increase adoption and potentially make them more suitable for more applications that today’s batteries don’t serve very well.
Moshiel’s company Addionics is making a game-changing improvement to batteries. They’re one of only 12 winners of the prestigious BloombergNEF award for this year, and their solution is a great fit for Hardware to Save a Planet. Because they’re one of the few companies I know of that are focused on changing the physics of batteries, as opposed to chemistry.
To introduce Moshiel quickly, he’s truly a deep technical expert in the field. He did his PhD in material science at Imperial College, London, with a focus on batteries, and he co-founded Addionics in 2017 with two of his professors from there. I think what he has accomplished is a great example of finding commercial impact from academic research, which is no small feat, and I’m really excited to learn more about it. Welcome, Moshiel. Thank you for joining us.
Moshiel Biton: Thank you, Dylan. I’m really happy being here and very excited to participate in your podcast.
Dylan: All right. Let’s start with your background and how you ended up on this path running a company addressing a major climate challenge. Were you motivated to fight climate change early on or did something else lead you here?
Moshiel: No. It started I think in high school when I really liked to focus on physics, engineering, then the university was natural for me to study engineering. I did bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Ben-Gurion University in Israel, in Sheva, and master’s that focused on semiconductors to better understand performance of semiconductors. How it’s going to be implemented in applications, which is more applicable research, applied research in testing our theoretical one, lots of experiments in the lab, lots of nanotechnology.
My professor, back then, and supervisor, who was the head of the nanotechnology center in the University tried to convince me to stay and to continue for a PhD. I didn’t want to disappoint him and I didn’t want to do a PhD, I wanted to go to work in the industry and to make an impact, but not through academia.
The result was a bit shy to say that I don’t want to continue, as I said, if I continue, I will do it only abroad. Because it could be very boring to study in the same university and to do all the degrees there. Fast forward, I found myself at Imperial College in London doing a PhD in the field of battery, and it was completely different from semiconductors, so everything was new. I learned everything from zero, from scratch.
After a few years in the field, I started to understand the value. Back then in 2012, it wasn’t sexy, or in the news as today. Especially in Israel, days of better places and the collapse of this company, if you’re familiar with the dream of swappable batteries for electric vehicles, a billion-dollar company that disappeared. It started, it was a big vision but unfortunately, we see only today companies doing maybe like 10, 12 years later, it’s becoming more realistic to do those types of things.
It was some change and even a big bet to move from a very stable industry semiconductor to battery, which wasn’t very advanced or attractive as a semiconductor. In the early days, in the battery domain, I felt the difference. I asked myself, “Why don’t we see more talents, more young people in that field?” I think thanks to Tesla, thanks to Elon Musk, we saw a big shift, and batteries became not only essential, a tool component, but became also very attractive to young people, young generations, and kids to try to understand batteries, to learn to study batteries.
You asked me about if I had a passion from the beginning of fighting climate or being in that field, so I always wanted to be part of the energy. Also, in semiconductors, we develop sensors for solar panels and for energy devices. It was connected and I really wanted to be part of that, but to start a company, it was just inspiration that was stronger than us.
Three of us, we found the idea of making Addionics, to establish the company, and it’s not like we just said, “Okay, we must open a company. This is what we are going to do.” It was the opposite. Many entrepreneurs told me that they were in one room, they had an idea to try to think what they’re going to do. We knew what we were going to do from day one, so it was very clear.
I got inspiration from the company that you mentioned. During my research, we researched a phenomena which you want to prevent in batteries, you want to avoid. What we understand and together we can take this byproduct and turn it into benefit, and that’s how the company started. Fast forward, as you mentioned, we’re already five years active and super exciting like timing in the industry of the energy field. We appreciate it every day going to the company, to the office, and seeing the changes and the progress. Very, very exciting.
Dylan: Yes, it’s cool. A lot has changed in that timeframe in the battery space. I think you mentioned around 2012, which is when you got into batteries. I think that was the year– I was just looking at this, the year that the Model S was launched. Tesla was just becoming this mainstream thing, and like you said, they’ve been a big part of why batteries are such a big deal on everybody’s minds today.
Batteries are something we all use every day. I know embarrassingly little about how they work. Would it be helpful if you could just describe how a typical battery works?
Moshiel: Sure. Battery, it’s a closed energy system. It’s different from a combustion engine vehicle, in that you have a system in which you always inject fuel. In a battery, it’s closed, so the fuel that you have in the battery, it’s the maximum amount of energy that you can use. In every battery, you have three main components, you have two electrodes, an anode and cathode, you have an electrolyte, and you have a separator. You have a negative electrode and positive electrode.
The batteries and especially lithium-ion batteries, called lithium-ion batteries, because the lithium ions are moving from one electrode to another electrode. During that move, they are either releasing the electron or receiving electrons. There is a chemical reaction when this electron is released or received. When it’s released, it’s the discharge. When you are operating your device, you can collect the electron and operate your laptop.
When you charge the battery, you are receiving electrons and storing these electrons so you can use it at a later stage. It’s a reversible reaction, so that’s the reason that you can charge and discharge. Other than cathode, they are made from different components. Most of the cathodes today are made of graphite. There are also companies and lots of efforts to replace the graphite with silicon which is more energetic.
On the cathode side, you have metal composites that store the energy on the cathode side and always you need to match between anode and cathode because you want to balance to have the similar amount of ions that can travel from one side to another side. Why is there a separator?
The separator role is to make sure that only ions can transfer from one side to another side but prevent physical contact. Because if we’re going to have a physical contact between something which is negative, electron negative to positive electrodes, we are going to get a short and in extreme cases even fire and explosion. We want to prevent physical contact. The electrolyte is what actually transfers the ions from one side to another side. That’s how basic battery I would say works. It, of course, depends on different chemistries and different systems but that’s the basic structure to finish it.
Dylan: That’s super helpful. The general construction of a battery is two electrodes, a cathode and anode with an electrolyte, and a separator in between them. Tell me now that we have that context where the battery of your innovation is being applied.
Moshiel: The innovation is on the electrode level each, the electrode consists of two components. You have the active material on the anode as we mentioned, like graphite, for instance, and you have the current collector. The current collector it’s a 2D metal foil similar to the foil that you have in your kitchen and on top of this foil you spread the active material, the chemistry, and together after a few processes, you get an electrode. That’s the electrode that you can use.
What we do is we are changing the structure of this electrode instead of having 2D metal just 100% I would say dense. What we do we’re making 3D metal structures scaffold so we’re creating more, we can increase the surface of the metal. We can load more active material, and increase the surface area. Exceeding the same space, we can load more material and simultaneously we can improve the content between the active material to the metal.
Think about, I would say a sponge or a scaffold or a web where we can add more material. By doing that we can kill a few birds in one stone. One of the main challenges in batteries is the trade-off between energy to power. It’s similar to this glass of water. If I have more water in the glass it will take me more time to drink. Similar to batteries, you want more energy if we’re talking about electric vehicles, so a longer range which means we need a bigger battery, but it will take us more time to charge a bigger battery.
Dylan: Just quickly energy is the total amount of energy in your glass analogy, the amount of water in the glass-
Dylan: -and power is the rate at which that energy can be discharged?
Moshiel: Yes, it can be consumed. They will speed the acceleration on how fast you can drink the water and it depends on the size of the battery, or the glass. What we’re doing, we’re changing the structure in a way that this dynamic is changing so the trade-off is minimized dramatically between the power and the energy.
Today to solve this issue, there is a need to change the thickness of the electrode. A very thin electrode would give you high power, you have a very short distance between the active material to the metal so you can drink faster, or you can extract the energy much faster.
If you build a thick electrode you have more energy but there is a trade-off. With thin electrodes, they are very good for power applications, but very bad for energy and if you want to have enough capacity you need to have many, many layers. This is also going to be very expensive, 50% more expensive than a thick electrode. Thick electrode will provide a wide range of energy but you’re going to have lots of limitations in power, diffusion, limitation, poor mechanical stability and very poor lifetime. If you have a very thick electrode, more tendency for separation, elimination, cracks similar to a cake.
If you’re going to have a very thick cake, it’s going to collapse. That’s something that we’re changing. We’re changing the mechanical structure by having inside the cake like sticks and scaffold that can hold the active material together. In terms of shortening the distance of the path of diffusion, we have a very high content area. The effects, we can build thick electrodes, width and distance between the metal to the active material which is very similar for thin electrodes.
We can reduce the resistance dramatically by 50% and more in the battery so we get very good effects for power but simultaneously we can also have high energy. Also, it’s resulting in cost because if we can have thick electrodes by definition or reducing the cost using less layers, less inactive materials, more active materials, more energy density, it’s associated with cost reduction.
When we’re talking about cost reduction, our goal is to have at least a 10% reduction cost per kilowatt hour. This is something which is very important for the industry if we can reduce the cost. We talked about stability, mechanical stability it’s associated with lifetime so it’s another advantage and also thermal stability or conductivity.
It’s similar to, I would say thermal and electronic conductivity. It’s going to be much higher, thanks to the nature of the structure. If you have just a 2D layer and you have very good conductive material and on top of that very bad conductive material, the dissipation is not going to be through the non-conducting material only through the conductive elements. We are creating a 3D scaffold so the dissipation is happening along all the directions. That’s another advantage associated with safety and lifetime.
Dylan: Back to your research where this came from and about how batteries exploded, I guess I can start to see the connection. You were understanding why batteries were exploding and how making this 3D structure would improve safety and mechanical reliability, is that the connection?
Moshiel: Yes. We can relate it to that with the. Of course, the idea, the concept was there from day one but how we’ve managed to develop that, of course, changed along the way and we always wanted to make it as mentioned cost-effective. In order to make it cost-effective, we needed to compromise on some features or some I would say more ideas that will be helpful for the performance. Bottom line we want to make it cost-effective being we want to be able to customize it for any geometry that is going to provide improvement.
We realized along the way that we need to be very cost-effective and only think about geometry with the limitations that we have being cost-effective, being chemistry agnostic, or whatever case is going to be the market can benefit from those structures. Being about to integrate it into existing production lines, so only those structures have been able to tick all those features, and been able to move into the later stage of production.
Dylan: A question, what does it look like with this kind of microscopic structure, or would it just look like a film if I held it in my hand?
Moshiel: Yes. The starting point we are taking is the thickness of foils today in the industry and there is a trend to reduce the thickness dramatically on the anode side, even like six micron. We can build a foil for all metals in that thickness but to make them we can restructure with the real direction. We have a structure and a shape that can provide the ability to load more material and also to have better stability and better conductivity.
Dylan: You mentioned cost reduction, safety, what about some of the other key characteristics of batteries like energy density, capacity, charging time, how are those things impacted?
Moshiel: As we’re building high-value components it’s not like a standalone battery. Our vision is to implement this technology in every battery in the world. We are always dependent on the type of chemistry so it’s the question like where we’re going to apply it, for what chemistry, for what technology?
If we take a reference and compare technology, we’re talking about the percentage of improvement compared to the reference, so it’s not a definite number. With some chemistries, we have much higher improvement, because, by definition, they already have very poor performance so we can get higher improvement.
For some other chemistries it’s already you push, I would say the limit with the performance, the improvement is lower but still we see improvement. It really depends. We have demonstrated, as I mentioned, reduction of internal resistance by 50%, so we can also charge faster at those rates.
In terms of capacity, theoretically we’re talking about by changing and optimizing the structure we can load more material by 20% theoretically. In reality, in practice we can increase it and make it much faster because this is also associated with the ability to access this capacity. If we can make it 20%, but in real time we can access all the 100%, which is different from the real world.
I’ll give you just an example to make it simple. Today you buy today electric vehicle that can run for 300 miles. This is in theory. In practice, you drive on different roads, different conditions, air con, not air con, highways, you have traffic jams, all of that is going to affect your true range. The reason is it’s mainly at high speed by resistance, so the capacity is there, but you have a block, you cannot access that capacity. What we do with the fact that you introduce resistance by 50%, we’re removing that flow.
If it’s 300 mile and in reality it’s 200 mile, what we can do is increase it by 20%, 30%, let’s say 400 and access all the 400. At high speed rate I would say charging rates or discharge rate access higher capacity.
Dylan: Double the capacity in that example.
Moshiel: In reality, yes.
Dylan: That’s a pretty big deal, right?
Moshiel: Yes. Of course, it’s in extreme use cases. If you are going to drive very slow in the city, it’s not going to double it but the ability to load more material and to access more material simultaneously that’s something unheard of in batteries, and that’s what we’re changing, only by physical structure. That’s the method. That’s important.
This podcast, of course, is recorded. You can publish that in a few weeks time and eventually it’s gonna be the state of the art. Those are going to be the mainstream structure. Once we’re going to have the ability to integrate its scale and mass production. You can factor it from that moment once and manage to achieve the cost and the scale, there is no reason why not to use it.
Dylan: How should we think about it in a climate change context? What I said at the beginning of the show is that this might enable faster adoption of electric vehicle technology. Is it possible that it could make batteries serve new use cases that aren’t well served by batteries today? I know trucking is not easily electrified. I’m saying even home energy storage or grid scale energy storage, are those potential applications as well?
Moshiel: Yes, correct. As I mentioned, our vision is very ambitious, very big. It’s going to be gradual, not in one day, but we want to integrate our structures into any type of battery chemistry and for any application. You mentioned energy storage, residential energy storage or grid energy storage, of course, and automotive, aviation, marine application, consumer electronics and so on. It could be applied into different applications.
The electrification revolution is happening with Addionics and without. We are not going to be the ones that will tell you, “Without us, we’ll not be able to electrify those.” No, it’s happening. With our technology, what we can do is really, as you mentioned, to accelerate and to open and to make it attractive to a wider variety of applications. If maybe we have some application that is still debatable to do with batteries or not so we can push it and really accelerate the adoption.
What we can do is to make some materials, which are not very attractive today because maybe they have poor energy or conductivity or power, but maybe with our technology they can get improved above a threshold that will be sufficient for some applications. We can accelerate the adoption of those more environmentally friendly materials for instance.
This has a huge impact on climate and environment and also in terms of energy storage this definitely can be super attractive. For energy storage that is today probably the best tool vehicle to store energy, better than any other technologies but they’re very expensive. The cost prevents grid scale application and other use cases to adapt the battery.
What we can do, we can make it more accessible and to enable a large variety of applications to use it. We can push, we can accelerate. We can encourage more and more by, of course, cost reduction, which is going to be anyway. What we saw recently is that the cost was actually increased three times in the last year, which was a bit against all the analysts, I would say reports.
Everyone was thinking that price is going to go down and go down and go down, it’s not going to stop. I believe that prices will normalize again, but still we need to have some technology structure, physics, AI in the battery field in order to make sure that we are going to get this cost reduction as soon as possible.
Dylan: The business model as you would sell these electrodes that would be customized for various applications to balance all the right characteristics of the battery to meet the needs of the application. You have this ambitious goal to be in every battery in the world. Where are you on that commercialization path?
Moshiel: We’re working on now with the biggest, I would say companies in the world, in the automotive space and other spaces, which with few companies really the best one in the world. Some of them were more advanced, some of them more early stages. The idea is to give them our structure, so they can test it, touch it, feel and see the potential as well.
We’re always building ourselves with our components, we’re doing that with all the pillars that I mentioned. Design, manufacturing, process engineering, integrating that into a battery cell and always building the reference there that builds with the same footprint in the same factory with the same chemistry, which only changes the physical structure of the electrodes.
Then you can compare apples to apples and see the improvements and always believe that it’s better to give the third party to the client to test it, because then no one could tell you maybe you cheated or we did it in your labs or garage. Take it, see it, believe it, and then let’s move to a more advanced stage.
Dylan: It sounds amazing. Is there any reason why somebody wouldn’t want to integrate this into their batteries?
Moshiel: Definitely. I think we need to understand the battery industry is very conservative. Today the main challenge is to meet demand and capacity demand. Most of the companies, they’re also scared of introducing new processes or new components, or new technology. They need to survive and they need to supply enough cells in order to meet all their contracts, et cetera. Many companies are trying to just survive and to supply what they’re committed to. They don’t want to be bothered with new technology. This is a big commercial challenge.
Another challenge is technology. For us to have enough resources to be able to work with different factories, to be able to customize, integrate that. The attention, resources, scale up, all of that is associated with that.
Dylan: On the technology, you just mentioned one of the technical challenges is I guess being able to integrate into all these various different manufacturing environments for your customers specific batteries. I’m curious to understand the technology a little bit more.
As I understand it, other people have looked at 3D metal structures to replace these electrodes, but where your innovation is and actually manufacturing it and being able to do that at scale and cost effectively. Your website mentions AI enabled structure optimization, and I was really curious, what the heck does that mean and what is the manufacturing process?
Moshiel: That’s a great question. Many smart people try to do that. We are not smarter or we have any secret weapon to be able to solve things that were solved before. What people did, they used what was available, and not necessarily if it’s available, it’s suitable. What was available was very expensive, not necessarily battery operated, and we identified that. I think that was the root cause of those failures, and the fact that people took what was available.
We invented something new. The manufacturing process is completely invented. It’s based on the principle of existing processes, but the outcome product is completely new, and that’s something which is, I think, the game changer here in that equation. You ask what AR is? As I mentioned, we have a pillar of design, we can increase surface area, we can have 3D structure, but exactly what that structure is going to look like.
We can have probably thousands of structures, even more than that. What, we should build all those thousands of structures and build batteries with those thousands of structures and then test them and then run it for 18 months, to get a cycle life. It’s going to be forever. We wanted to develop a battery lab on steroids, to understand it, to get a fast reaction. Instead of having 5,000 iterations, how can we reduce it in order to save cost and save time?
That’s what the modeling and simulation and all this AI is telling us, so we are training the computer to tell us exactly what is the required structure so we can input, that we input should be like, “We want to improve the energy density.” “Okay, what should be the structure?” That’s, I would say, the other level, pillar in the company, which is very important. I believe this could be applicable not only to our battery, but in every battery in the end. This is something missing. We developed that because it doesn’t exist.
Dylan: You must have some pretty high level of control over the structure itself. Is it an additive process or a subtractive process?
Moshiel: We are combining both. For the anode side, we’re doing like it’s additive, and for the cathode side it’s the opposite. It’s not additive in a way like 3D metal printing or other stuff. We’re doing that at room temperature for macro solution. It’s something that you need to see with your eyes, and that’s really cool. For people with technology, engineering, it’s very fascinating to see that.
Dylan: Can I ask one question about the future of Addionics? Then I have three short questions that I ask everybody and we can do quick answers to those?
Dylan: What do you think Addionics looks like at steady state? I don’t know if that’s 10 years out or 20 years out, however far that is. What do you think the future of the company is?
Moshiel: We want to build a giant huge company that will be the leader of designing, manufacturing and providing a 3D, I would say technology solution for electrodes and for any battery in the world.
Dylan: A few last questions just to close us out. I would love to know what you see in your crystal ball. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of our planet and our species?
Moshiel: Definitely optimistic. I think that’s the nature of an entrepreneur, otherwise you are fighting against all chances, statistics. If you’re doing that, you must be optimistic or crazy. I don’t think I am crazy enough, but more optimistic.
Dylan: Who’s one other person or company doing something to address climate change right now that’s inspiring you?
Moshiel: In our company, or in general?
Dylan: Yes, in general whether it’s in the battery space or other industries.
Dylan: I don’t think there is one person or one human that is pushing, I think it’s a global effort. Also, climate, it’s not something that one person can do in one location, because one location can keep and then push and make sure that no one is going to pollute. In other countries, everything is the opposite, at the end. We saw that with COVID, everything spurred and also climate change, it’s the same. The effort should be global and not–
This is, I think, also something that can be wrong for that individual trying to take the lead, things like government should work together. It’s a global effort and it’s not an individual task. Of course, we need to push, we need to do whatever is needed in order to accelerate that, but it’s bigger than just one person.
Dylan Absolutely. Do you have any advice for someone who’s not working in climate tech today but wants to do something to help?
Moshiel: Sure. If you want to be part of that space, I think today is the best time in history to be part of that. I would call it industry movement and more openness to hear about ideas, to accept new ideas, to get funding for ideas. This is exactly the right timing, just dare and ask, don’t be afraid to ask and don’t be afraid to fail, is also important.
Dylan Moshiel, thank you very much for your time and also for dedicating your career to solving some really big problems. I appreciate the opportunity to sit down with you.
Moshiel: Thank you very much and thanks for the opportunity, and feel free to be in touch as well.
- Moshiel on LinkedIn
- Moshiel on Twitter
- Addionics Website
- Hardware to Save a Planet Website
- Synapse Website
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