Gene Berdichevsky, founder of battery chemistry company Sila, on the science of scaling – TechCrunch
Before Gene Berdichevsky became the co-founder and CEO of battery chemistry company Sila Nano, he was the seventh employee of Tesla Motors. As the lead engineer on the Roadster battery, Berdichevsky was one of the first people crazy enough to experiment with inserting a lithium-ion battery into a combustion engine vehicle. The result? The Roadster became the first fully electric highway legal mass production car powered by lithium-ion battery cells and capable of traveling over 200 miles per charge.
In 2011, Sila was founded with the mission not only to build the next generation of chemical batteries, but also to be able to evolve it. Since then, the company has figured out how to replace the graphite in the anode of a lithium-ion cell with silicon, which Berdichevsky says results in a denser and cheaper battery cell. He explains why:
There are four key components in a battery. The anode stores lithium as the batteries charge. The cathode stores lithium when the battery is discharged, and lithium moves back and forth between charge and discharge, moving through an electrolytic liquid. The separator prevents them from shorting out.
For the past 30 years, the anode has been made of graphite, and this graphite material requires a ring of six carbon atoms for a lithium atom to come and sit in the middle when the battery is charging. So six carbon atoms are needed to store one atom of lithium. In silicon, you can have one silicon atom bonded to four lithium atoms. So instead of six to one, you are one to four. You literally have a 42x atomic advantage with silicon, which means you can use a lot less material to store the same amount of lithium. Essentially, you are using a lot less material in a much smaller space to store your energy, the lithium, in the anode.
Sila’s first commercial product, released in September on the latest wearable Whoop fitness tracker, not only proves the company’s recipe works, but it can evolve – the launch also marks Sila’s 10th anniversary. The next step is to multiply by 100 to put the same chemistry in the automobiles.
The company already has battery joint ventures with BMW and Daimler and aims to provide battery chemistry for large-scale electric vehicles by 2025. With nearly all of the major automakers promising new lines of electric vehicles, it is to the utmost importance of ensuring a durable and affordable battery.
As a pioneer in battery technology, Berdichevsky plays the game for a long time, already thinking in terms of the work of the next decades, and not just the next few years. He tells us about his long-term strategy, his thoughts on fundraising, and his vision for the battery industry.
The following interview, which is part of an ongoing series with founders building transportation businesses, has been edited for length and clarity.
What is Sila’s long-term vision?
We want to be a world leader and do for the energy storage industry what Intel has done for the personal computing industry. Intel did not manufacture all chips, motherboards, or PCs. They made the most important components whose performance led to the adoption of the devices people really wanted, and the more the microprocessor got better, the more computers got better, the more people used them and the more the world changed. .