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Lithium ion batteries have a catch — flammability. This Md. company has an alternative.

Beltsville-based Ion Storage Systems has developed a solid-state battery that uses nonflammable materials. One of the biggest issues with current lithium ion battery is it contains liquid electrolytes which can overheat and catch on fire. (Submitted photo)

Lithium ion batteries are found in many products, including cellphones and other portable electronics, as well as electric vehicles.

The batteries, which use liquid electrolytes, have drawbacks, however.  One of the biggest is their tendency to overheat, which can lead to fires.

To address that problem, Beltsville-based Ion Storage Systems has developed a solid-state battery that uses nonflammable materials. The technology was created by Eric Wachsman, who founded the company in 2019 and serves as its executive chairman.

“We have taken that flammable liquid electrolyte out which caused the battery to combust and replaced it with a solid-state ceramic electrolyte, so that is why our battery doesn’t combust even under extreme conditions,” said Ricky Hanna, Ion Storage Systems’ CEO and board director.
Hanna, who has more than 20 years of experience in the battery field, worked for Apple as its executive director for battery operations. He said he joined Ion because he wanted to “work on the solution instead of continuing to work on the problem, which is lithium ion.”

“I decided to focus my efforts on the solution, which I believe to be solid-state batteries,” Hanna said.
The military and the aerospace, automotive and consumer products industries have shown interest in the solid-state batteries. A round of funding that closed in June raised more than $30 million for Ion Storage Systems to develop its new battery technology.

Wachsman has developed a tiny battery that the company plans to scale up to meet the military’s request for a wearable battery that will power all a soldier’s devices.

“We are in the process right now of doing that scale-up and ordering production equipment, which we are going to put into our facility at Beltsville,” Hanna said.

Ion Storage Systems also plans to build a battery for electric vehicles that is cheaper and has twice the capacity of current batteries.

“Think of our technology as more of a platform than just a technology, (which) enables a bunch of real benefits that far surpass lithium ion batteries,” said Neil Ovadia, Ion’s vice president of operations. “Our battery is essentially a really good platform for other developments and improvements in the battery world.”

In particular, Ovadia stressed the new battery’s nonflammability.

“If you puncture it, it won’t catch fire,” he said. “It won’t have any disastrous effects and that is really crucial in a lot of industries like defense and aerospace, electric vehicle and consumer products.”

Also, Ion’s solid-state battery functions in both high and low temperatures, Ovadia noted, adding that it takes a lot of work to ensure lithium ion batteries remain stable.

“We don’t need that type (of) coddling,” he said. “Our battery works really well from very low temperatures all the way up to (very high temperatures). You won’t get these errors when your phone is on the beach and it has been sitting in the sun for too long and it is overheated.”

The company plans to have prototypes of the solid-state battery available next year, with mass production set to begin in 2026. Ion expects to be able to start generating commercial revenue in late 2023 or early 2024 in the defense and aerospace markets.

“We are pretty excited about that because, as a startup that was founded in 2019, to be able to start achieving revenue in less than five years, that is a really great accomplishment,” Ovadia said.

He added that, given ongoing global supply chain issues, domestic manufacturing of batteries is key. Ovadia said Ion expects to do significant hiring in the coming months and years. The company, which began with six people, plans to have 60 employees by the end of the year, he said.