24M was formed in 2010 by Dr. Yet-Ming Chiang and a group of researchers at MIT. Chiang’s name should be familiar to anyone who has followed the lithium ion battery business over the past decade. He also founded A123, an advanced battery company that led the way toward more affordable lithium-ion batteries. It soared to great financial heights before it crashed back to earth. It finally went bankrupt and its assets were purchased by China’s Wanxiang.
But Chiang and his group didn’t give up. They turned their attention to researching flow batteries which use liquid electrolytes stored in tanks. Need more storage? Just make the tanks bigger. Unlike lithium-ion batteries, a flow battery is temperature stable, can withstand far more discharge cycles and uses environmentally friendly electrolytes. But they tend to be quite large and heavy.
Eventually, Chiang’s team turned their attention back to lithium-ion batteries and came to a startling conclusion. Says Chiang, “The lithium-ion battery is a brilliant, enabling technology, but its economics are flawed. It’s prohibitively expensive; it’s cumbersome and inefficient to make; and today’s version is approaching the limits of its cost reductions.”
Today’s batteries are manufactured using techniques left over from the days of making cassette tapes. When CDs replaced cassettes, Sony was left with lots of unused manufacturing capacity. It figured out how to convert that equipment to making electrodes for lithium-ion batteries using lots of thin plates. Each plate needed a spacer to keep it separate from the others. Those non-conductive spacers took up a lot of room in the completed batteries.