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21 January 2021

Fast charge EVs no longer holy grail StoreDot believes

In the past two days everyone has read about the EV battery that will take just 5 minutes to charge called the XFC or Extra Fast Charge battery. Our job here is to explain it as best we can, but also have a little think about what this means to the industry and what will happen next.

Tiny Israeli firm StoreDot has been around since 2012, and in 2015 it demonstrated a battery for a Samsung mobile phone, which took just one minute to charge and showed it at CES. Now as we understand it, that battery has NOT come to market as yet, so that suggests that even once it produces a full manufacturing plant, it still takes some time to bring the product safely to market. But five years is a bit of a slow launch.

That device was supposed to go into full scale production before 2017, but a phone company has to agree to put it into its phones, and so far that hasn’t happened. We wonder why? Look up fast charging products available to buy and their charge times are still 20 minutes.

The idea that StoreDot formed around is that a non-biological, but nonetheless organic set of materials, which bind silicon nano-particles in the Anode, which have a self-healing rapid conduction layer, so there is no swelling and malformation, and which does not allow the electrolyte to form dendrites. The organic Anode layer is just 10 microns thick and it is highly conductive, but beyond that the company does not really explain its invention. The diagram below explains the problems it sets out to solve.

The organic nanocrystal material came out of research by Professor Ehud Gazit, of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology at Tel Aviv University, who was able looking to isolate key peptides to work towards a cure for Alzheimer’s and initially StoreDot became called StoreDot because it used these materials to target Flash memory. It was an invention looking for a problem which has settled on battery design.

One of the key things the company is saying is that the process can be retrofitted into existing lithium-ion battery manufacturing lines for mass production and samples have just been released of its second generation silicon-dominant product. We presume they were manufactured by its Chinese manufacturing partner EVE energy, because these are described as being production samples.

Investment cash has been had in the past from BP, Daimler, Samsung Ventures and TDK, so it appears at least that Samsung is still working with the company. StoreDot claims that it will take just 5 minutes to charge an EV battery to drive a full 300 kilometers, and that the battery can survive for the lifetime of an EV.

We have seen how ephemeral this type of success can be, because after QuantumScape announced its solid state lithium ion battery, which it said did not allow the formation of dendrites and which would outperform those that are currently used in EVs, which would also charge faster – its share price rose exponentially. Then it stopped when a few people pointed out that there are another 3 years before QuantumScape expects to bring the invention to market and by that time, competition will be exceptionally fierce.

This is not the case with StoreDot. It has a manufacturing design, it has 8 years of research behind it, it has other products it appeared to bring to market, except several years later they don’t appear to actually be on the market. Last year the company demonstrated the technology on a two wheeled scooter, perhaps that is being made at scale and sold in markets that prefer two wheeled transportation, like India and Taiwan? Not that the company is mentioning.

Other battery designs such as Tesla’s new battery, are likely to increasingly rely on parallel routes into the battery to accelerate charging, and that is part of this design also – again not given in any detail. We have seen EV charging fall from multiple hours to as low as 15 minutes using fast charge units, although there are concerns that this will harm the battery and give it a shorter life.

So when people are quoted in videos supporting StoreDot (links from its site), saying car owners won’t wait 5 hours to charge their car, clearly these are old quotes from a time before the current charging infrastructure was put into place. The simple truth is that insisting that each new home built has its own charge point shifts the emphasis on car charging from “on the road” to at home, or to places where you are happy to spend 20 minutes – so supermarkets, gyms, shopping centers, cinemas.

Today most petrol stations are out in the country, the only feature on a fast road, where property is cheap and there is a high volume of driving traffic. And those are owned primarily by oil companies such as British Petroleum, Total and Shell. It is these isolated refueling points that need a 5 minute charge, otherwise their entire investment goes up in smoke as soon as enough people have EVs, and no longer stop there. We cannot imagine sitting in our car for 20 minutes doing nothing but staring at the traffic.

So it’s no wonder that the benefits of fast charging are most emphasized by BP in these videos and explains its shareholding. Yes, people may invest in such an improvement, but the EV revolution is not going to stop without it. So if StoreDot goes public, and given that it has had investors involved for 8 years, it will be under pressure to do so, then its share price may well spike on early publicity and then fall, as people realize that it is just another battery company. We would need to know more about its revenue model and its licensing terms, IPR, technical process and partners, before an IPO would really fly.

It would also need to prove that this time its products will actually become available in the next 2 to 3 years, not languish on a major firm’s to-do list.

That leaves its more likely exit to be one where the assets are acquired by an oil company with a large petrol station arm, which can then convert its petrol stations to superfast charging, and license the technology laterally to its rivals.