Ilika plc (LON:IKA) Chief Executive Officer Graeme Purdy caught up with DirectorsTalk for an exclusive interview to discuss the commencement of an Ilika-led PowerDrive project.
Q1: We saw an update this morning regarding the commencement of the PowerDrive Line collaboration in which I note that the funding is coming from the UK government’s Faraday Challenge Fund. Can you please explain for us a little bit about that?
A1: In 2017, the government launched its Faraday Challenge Fund through its Industrial Challenge Fund and the Faraday Fund has £246 million to deploy over 4 years, specifically for battery development for automotive. Really, that’s in response to the expectation that 50% of vehicle production by 2030 will be either electric or hybrid.
Q2: Until now, Ilika has been best known for its miniature solid-state batteries, what has prompted Ilika to move to the larger scale cells?
A2: At the end of last year, we started getting quite a few inbound calls from automotive OEM’s who are responding to policy changes and also customer demand for more electric vehicles, more choice of electric vehicles and as part of that, they realised that cell technology and battery development is central to their ability to differentiate their offering.
So, you may have noticed that we were offered grants by the Faraday Challenge Fund to do two programmes in which PowerDrive Line is one, so it’s the first one for us to kick off. We’ve also got lots of other interest from other potential partners outside of the Faraday Fund programmes.
Q3: So, what are the similarities and the differences between the larger scale and the miniature cells?
A3: The similarities are that the cells are based on the same portfolio as materials that we’ve been developing really over the last 10 years or so. We has been active in solid-state battery optimisation for probably the longest of any commercial entity, certainly here in the UK and possibly even globally.
The differences are instead of us using a vacuum evaporation process in order to make the thin film miniature batteries, we ‘re actually using a printing process in order to make these devices which is cheaper for making bulk devices. So, obviously the cost of making large format cells for automotive has to be competitive so we’re switching process platforms for these larger formant batteries.
Q4: Does that mean Ilika is going to manufacture cells?
A4: We’re going to build a pre-pilot line here in Southampton to demonstrate the process technology, much in the same way that we did for our miniature cells, but our model remains a capital-light model. So, we will be licencing this technology through to manufacturing partners.
Q5: We heard in the news this morning about the latest concerns from the IPCC regarding climate change, will this project help in any way?
A5: Electric vehicles give us the choice where energy comes from and at the moment vehicles run on hydrocarbons, they’re either petrol or they’re diesel which has got a certain Co2 emission profile, a certain carbon footprint. Electric vehicles will draw their energy from the grid or micro-generated sources.
The grid currently has about 30% renewable energy generation associated with it and government policy is driving that percentage of renewables to greater heights and gradually replacing coal-fired power stations.
So, that will have an impact on the carbon footprint of the country so these batteries, certainly indirectly, will make an impact on that.
I think also it’s important to say that electric vehicles have to become more attractive to drivers. Certainly, some of the top-end vehicles have got pretty good performance now, but the drivers to make sure that electric vehicles fulfil the motoring needs of the population and rapid charging which is one of the primary aims of this programme can enable this more rapid uptake of electric vehicles.