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Saturday, December 6, 2014

VW buys stake in solid-state battery startup aiming to triple EV range

Volkswagen bought a stake in battery startup QuantumScape with the aim of developing technology that can more than triple the range of its electric cars, according to people familiar with the matter.

VW is considering using the energy-storage technology, which is fireproof, for vehicles from the namesake brand as well as Porsche and Audi, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans are private. Tests to show the system is viable for cars are due to be completed in mid-2015, they said. The VW of America unit bought a 5 percent holding and has options to raise the stake.

Peter Thul, a spokesman at Wolfsburg, Germany-based VW, declined to comment on any investment. Calls to the main switchboard and an e-mail to San Jose-based QuantumScape seeking comment weren’t answered. Financial details of the company weren’t available.

Solid-State Technology

QuantumScape is an early-stage battery startup that has been working on commercializing technology from Stanford University. It was founded and is being led by Infinera co-founder and CEO Jagdeep Singh, and is backed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Khosla Ventures.

Licensing technology from Stanford, the company has been looking to create batteries that are energy dense as well as safer than standard lithium ion batteries. The company’s technology uses a new method for stacking trace amounts of materials together, which can lead to high energy and power densities, and also higher cycle life than traditional lithium ion batteries.

The Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program awarded grant funding to the stealthy firm back in 2011 describing the technology as:

This novel battery stores energy by moving electrons, rather than ions, and uses electron/hole redox instead of capacitive polarization of a double-layer. This technology uses a novel architecture that has potential for very high energy density because it decouples the two functions of capacitors: charge separation and breakdown strength. If successful, this project will develop a completely new paradigm in energy storage for electric vehicles that could revolutionize the electric vehicle industry.

700 km range

“I see great potential in this new technology, possibly boosting the range to as much as 700 kilometers (430 miles),” VW Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn said in a Nov. 6 speech at Stanford University in California. That’s more than three times the range of the battery-powered version of the VW Golf. Tesla’s Model S has a range of 265 miles, according to its website.

Electric Car technology is critical for meeting tightening emissions regulations, especially for luxury-car manufacturers such as VW, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Volkswagen’s increased focus on electric cars would put pressure on Tesla to maintain its sales lead.

The German automaker employs about 44,000 research and development engineers and spends $13 billion a year on new technology. Tesla’s entire workforce totaled about 5,800 employees at the end of 2013, and research and development expenses were $280 million in the first nine months of 2014.

“Electro-chemistry is a field of the greatest importance internationally and across industries,” and is “a field where we can and must achieve progress,” Winterkorn said in the speech. In July, he said the company had invested in a battery-technology company without providing details.

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