Cuberg presents to the second NASA-DOE Joint Workshop on Batteries for Electric Aviation
As aviation moves toward the promise of an abundant electric future, governmental bodies like NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy are playing a crucial role convening scientific, academic and industry players. Cuberg was honored to be invited to the second annual Joint Workshop on Batteries for Electric Aviation in April to offer our perspective on how to dramatically increase battery energy density for aviation applications.
Evan Frank, Director of Battery Systems at Cuberg, spoke for the company. Evan has over a decade of specialized experience developing electric aircraft and propulsion systems across programs including DARPA ARES, Aurora XV-24 LightningStrike, AIRBUS Vahana, and Kittyhawk Heaviside.
Keep reading for an adaptation of Evan’s remarks and selected slides.
Hi, I’m Evan Frank, Director of Battery Systems at Cuberg. Thanks to NASA and the DOE for inviting us to this important gathering. I’d like to briefly introduce you to Cuberg, our technology strategy, and why our team is so hopeful for the future of electric flight.
Cuberg was founded in California by Richard Wang in 2015 as a spinout from his research at Stanford, and is now headquartered in San Leandro in the East Bay Area. We do our work in Silicon Valley to be close to top talent, including in the fields of electrification, software and data science, and because we strive to maintain a culture of innovation and ambition. We think and work like a startup, like so many of our colleagues here today.
But one thing that makes us different, and a big part of why I joined Cuberg, is that we are also part of a multinational parent company intent on helping us bring our technology to scale.
Northvolt, our parent company, is Europe’s first homegrown battery company. Northvolt has over five thousand employees and has $55 billion in orders from automotive, industrial, and utility customers.
Northvolt acquired Cuberg in 2021 because they recognized that our next-generation lithium metal technology is broadly compatible with well-understood lithium-ion manufacturing methods. The two companies, working together, are going to scale this chemistry and all the process innovations we develop along the way. Personally, I find that really exciting.
So let me tell you about our lithium-metal cells.
- Our high energy-dense lithium metal cell provides more specific energy and power. Researchers have understood the potential of lithium metal anodes for many years, but we are making unique strides in actually commercializing this technology.
- Our proprietary liquid electrolyte stabilizes high-energy anode and enable long cycle life. This is key, in particular, to meet safety requirements for aviation.
- Industry-standard nickel-rich cathode and separator fall within existing supply chain, which is key to manufacturability and going to scale.
- We’ve shipped prototype samples to customers worldwide, and had our technology independently validated. Customer announcements and external validations are on the way.
In a moment, I’ll get into the core of our advanced aviation line of business, but first I just want to pause and say what an exciting gathering this is, and what a tremendous historical moment we’re in for batteries.
Most of us are familiar with the concept of “Moore’s Law,” which isn’t actually a law, but rather the observation that the number of transistors in commercially available integrated circuits tends to double every two years. Approximately.
The solar industry talks about “Swanson’s Law,” which is the observation that the price of solar modules drops by 20% with each doubling of installed capacity. And what we’re seeing with batteries is broadly similar.
Battery prices have been dropping by 20% with every doubling of installed capacity since 1992, which we see here in this terrific chart from Our World in Data.
This chart is about lithium-ion batteries, and it really brings into focus why next-generation chemistries need to bandwagon on all this great progress in lithium-ion manufacturing. Chemistries that are broadly compatible with existing supply chains and process equipment can take advantage of this momentum. Totally novel approaches will struggle to commercialize. Core to Cuberg’s strategy is leveraging mature lithium ion cell manufacturing processes for development and productization of our next generation lithium metal cell.
Speaking of commercializing, another thing that makes Cuberg unique is that we are moving ahead with integrated battery systems and not just cells. My job is to get these really incredible cells into safe, certifiable, performative modules, packs, and systems and make sure that we’ve got all the system components in place to meet our customer needs.
Why are we making our own systems and not taking the approach of shipping cells to a third-party systems integrator? Because we believe that vertical integration will yield a superior product that is safer, faster for our customers, and will better enable us to optimize systems for our unique cells.
We have multiple customer projects happening right now, and what we’re finding is that the different use cases for their vehicles are pointing toward subtly different cell designs. Consider all the different applications for electric flight that we’ve heard about over the past two days. Vertical takeoff and landing vehicles are just not using power in the same way as a conventional aircraft. Cuberg can adjust our cells to meet those needs, and then optimize our systems in line with those adjustments. But we can only do that if we are vertically integrated.
The same concept applies to regulatory and safety concerns. We are looking forward to certifying the first lithium-metal battery system in the history of flight and are assembling talent to meet this goal.
As my colleagues from government organizations here today know very well, certification doesn’t stop at the cell. The whole system must meet a range of requirements for issues like reserve power, thermal runaway, conformity with design, and more. We believe that keeping control of the entire system stack will enable us to collaborate more effectively with regulators and get our customer aircraft in the air, faster.
To briefly recap before I take questions:
- Cuberg is a Silicon Valley startup backed by Northvolt, a multinational parent company.
- Our lithium metal technology has next-generation specific energy and power, while remaining compatible with mature manufacturing methods.
- Battery prices drop by 20% with every doubling of installed capacity, and next-generation chemistries need to leverage that momentum to successfully commercialize.
- Vertical integration from active cell materials to energy storage system is key to Cuberg’s goal of certifying the world’s first lithium metal battery system for aviation.
This is such an exciting time to be in our industry. Some observers have described this plethora of new aircraft designs as a “Cambrian explosion” and I’m inclined to agree. Our panelists from yesterday are doing really incredible work.
It’s also thrilling to think that we can decouple an abundant aviation industry from destructive greenhouse gas emissions. We can only do that by successfully commercializing safe and reliable systems, and I am very optimistic about reaching that goal.
Thank you so much for your time. I look forward to your questions.