Itochu takes top stake in US semisolid-battery developer

24M Technologies says its semisolid lithium-ion batteries are safer and cheaper to produce than standard models. (Photo courtesy of 24M)

FUMIE YAKU, Nikkei staff writer | Japan

TOKYO — Japanese trading house Itochu has become the top shareholder in an American company specializing in “semisolid” battery technology, which has the potential to slash manufacturing costs while also improving safety.

Itochu led a $56.8 million fundraising round for 24M Technologies, joined by other investors including Fujifilm and a fund run by Japan’s Sparx Group, according to a press release Monday from the Massachusetts-based company. Mass production of the new batteries is set to begin in Thailand this year under license from 24M.

With this additional investment, Itochu now owns about 30% of 24M. The move is another signal of the trading house’s recent focus on batteries to help meet surging demand amid concerns about the looming risk of a shortage.

While the electrodes of typical lithium-ion batteries use liquid electrolytes with layers of supporting materials, 24M’s semisolid electrodes feature a thick layer of a clay-like blend of electrolyte and other materials.

The lack of liquid electrolytes reduces the risk of fire, and the simplified structure and shorter list of necessary materials can reduce manufacturing costs by 25%, as well as eliminate the need for some production equipment, according to 24M. The capacity of semisolid batteries is similar to standard lithium-ion models, and the company aims to double it going forward.

Electronic parts makers and energy companies, mainly in Asia and Europe, license 24M’s technology with an eye toward building their own production facilities. Itochu plans to help with procuring materials and production equipment as well as with marketing.

Since the basic technology is already established, these batteries are expected to enter broader use sooner than the solid-state batteries being developed by companies such as Toyota Motor.

Global Power Synergy, part of Thai state-owned energy group PTT, is already working on production facilities, hoping to bring batteries to market this year. Norwegian battery parts maker Freyr is slated to start up a mass-production “gigafactory” in 2023. Plans call for global output of 24M’s semisolid batteries to reach 8 gigawatt-hours that year, enough to power 140,000 electric vehicles.

The technology is initially expected to see demand in energy storage for facilities such as factories and solar power plants, with electric vehicles entering the picture after capacity and charging time improve.

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