BioSolar bets on battery breakthrough

BioSolar's share price has had ups, but mainly downs. Chart taken from OTC Markets.

BioSolar’s share price has had ups, but mainly downs. Chart taken from OTC Markets.

By Jason Deign

Battery materials maker BioSolar is hoping it will be third time lucky as it moves towards commercialisation of a “breakthrough energy storage technology.”

The company last week touted a deal with South Korean battery manufacturer TopBattery to “assess, develop, manufacture, and/or market high power, high energy lithium-ion batteries,” said BioSolar in a press release.

Shares in OTC Markets Group-listed BioSolar jumped more than 71% at the news, but remained in the low cents range, maxing out at less than USD$0.07 on June 8.

And it looks like the company will need more than big announcements to get its investors excited: its current ground-breaking technology follows two others that have failed to take off.

Santa Clarita, California-based BioSolar, which has been in operation since 2006, first tried to make it big with an environmentally friendly solar PV back-sheet material, launched in 2008. 

Costing 25% less than competitors

The company said its back sheets, made from a cotton and nylon resin mix, would cost 25% less than leading competitors on the market.

But the product failed to take off, allegedly because of module pricing challenges brought on by Chinese oversupply. Undaunted, in 2015 BioSolar was back with big claims for another apparently revolutionary technology.

This time it was an innovative cathode design using inexpensive polymers and organic materials. BioSolar said it could help cut battery costs down to $54 per kilowatt-hour, a “ridiculously low target,” Greentech Media reported.

“We can double the capacity of the existing lithium-ion battery without drastically changing the internal workings by using a new cathode, CEO David Lee said at the time.

It seems, however, that BioSolar had barely more success with its cathode material than it did with its PV back sheet. 

Focusing instead on anode materials

This week Lee told Energy Storage Report that while the cathode design “is still good,” the company had decided to focus instead on anode materials.

“The cathode is a good one but it’s going to take some time for us to commercialise,” he said. “It’s so new that to be incorporated into a full battery you need a [new] anode and matching battery systems.”

In other words, a manufacturer would practically have to re-engineer a battery from scratch to take advantage of the BioSolar cathode’s purported benefits.

With traditional lithium-ion battery technologies free-falling in price, there is likely little incentive for anyone to do that. That is why BioSolar announced a shift in focus to anodes last September.

“While this anode is an independent technology, the company will seek synergies with the Super Cathode technology it has been developing,” it said in a press note. 

Entering the engineering phase

Lab testing of the silicon-alloy anode design finished in April and BioSolar said it had entered the engineering phase of development in May. Today 90% of the company’s resources are focused on the anode design, Lee said.

Last week’s tie-up with privately-held TopBattery is the latest step towards commercialisation of the anode material.

BioSolar called TopBattery a “leading lithium-ion battery manufacturer” that “develops and produce [sic] lithium-ion batteries and materials for application in electric vehicles and energy storage systems.”

However, there does not appear to be much public information about the battery manufacturer, other than what is available on its website.

The site lists battery systems of between 1kWh and 1MWh for stationary storage and uninterruptible power, as well as lithium-iron phosphate cells for electric vehicles. 

Involved in lithium-ion battery research

There is also some evidence the company may be involved in lithium-ion battery research supported by the Korea Institute of Energy Technology Evaluation and Planning.

BioSolar will be looking to work with TopBattery on the implementation of its anode technology in a real-life setting, said Lee.

“Our initial goal is to produce equal or better performance” compared to competing products, “at a much lower cost,” he said. “Our laboratory phase has proven that our concept is certainly valid.”

While Lee would not be drawn on exact numbers, he said the anode material would come in at about half the cost of competing materials on a cost-per-watt, cost-per-watt-hour and full lifecycle basis. “That is our goal,” he said.

Going forward, it will now be up to TopBattery to show how, or if, the figures pan out in a battery. “It may be a year or two before we can say anything concrete,” Lee said. “The credibility of the result is really important.”

After more than a decade of lofty claims and meagre results, he’s not kidding.

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