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Meet the latest next-gen battery startup to put down roots in a rural town in Washington

California battery startup OneD Battery Sciences is breaking ground Monday on a pilot manufacturing facility in the Eastern Washington town of Moses Lake.

It joins two other companies — Group14 Technologies and Sila Nanotechnologies — that are also producing silicon-enhanced materials for making batteries higher performing and faster charging, further solidifying the region as a sector hub.

“It’s super exciting,” said Dan Schwartz, founding director of the University of Washington’s Clean Energy Institute. “We’ve been in conversations for quite a while with several of those companies around how we support the battery innovation ecosystem.”

Less than three hours from Seattle, Moses Lake has numerous features making it an attractive destination for battery businesses. That includes access to clean, affordable energy and proximity to REC Silicon, a company that recently restarted its production of silane, a gas that’s a precursor to silicon. There are only three U.S. sources for silane — REC’s facility in Butte, Mont., and Wacker Chemie in Charleston, Tenn.

Compared to Group14 and Sila, OneD is launching a smaller-scale facility in Moses Lake, taking the jump from research and development to pilot-scale production. It’s occupying an existing 25,000-square foot building close to REC and investing $15-to-$20 million in the site.

The startup will employ 20 people and produce 100 tons of silicon-graphite anode material annually, providing its partners with enough material for testing in electric vehicle batteries.

The event Monday is focused on the instillation of silane-related equipment. OneD expects to start manufacturing operations in the first few months of next year.

Group14 plans to come online around the same time with a 4,000-ton annual capacity, which is enough material to help power 200,000 EVs. Sila aims to start producing material in the first half of 2025 to power 100,000 or more EVs.

OneD is confident despite its rivals’ much bigger near-term ambitions.

“I think it’s good to have competition,” Jan-Marc Luchies, chief operating officer for OneD, told GeekWire.

“At the same time, I think we are very efficient with our money, so we don’t spend that much money in this phase,” he added. “And I strongly believe our product is also better.”

The companies add silicon to the anodes of lithium batteries because it can store much more energy than graphite alone — but it presents technical challenges.

OneD’s Sinanode technology creates silicon nanowires dispersed across the surface and within the pores of the graphite. Using OneD’s silicon graphite allows automakers to use 25% fewer battery cells while maintaining the same range, Luchies said, which helps bring down the costs of EVs.

“There’s an enormous push to reduce the cost of the battery,” he said. “Because otherwise you cannot make an inexpensive car.”

OneD is partnering with General Motors on R&D with the possibility of GM using the technology in its EV batteries. The startup has additional, unnamed partners and has raised $73.4 million to date. In fall 2022, it closed a $25 million Series C round with backing from GM Ventures and Volta Technologies.

If OneD opts to expand operations in Moses Lake, it will look to grow production 10-fold, Luchies said.

There are challenges to locating in the rural community, particularly finding skilled labor. Some of the battery companies are partnering with educational institutions such as the UW and local educators including Big Bend Community College and area high schools to help prepare employees for the field.

And there are concerns that new companies — which include hydrogen fuel producing company Twelve — will start to deplete the area’s clean energy produced by hydropower. The utilities are exploring ways to better manage the power they have and are looking at adding solar power, Schwartz said.

 

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