MOSES LAKE — Work has started to put Eastern Washington at the forefront of building better batteries for the growing wave of electric cars.
With the help of $100 million in federal funds and the promise of up to 500 new jobs, Sila Nanotechnologies is renovating a factory that will position Moses Lake as a hub for battery technology and manufacturing, CEO Gene Berdichevsky said.
The Alameda, California-based battery-parts manufacturing company purchased the facility and the 160-acre plot on which it sits in May 2022. Months later, in October, it was awarded $100 million from Biden administration initiatives.
“After 30 years of outsourcing our technologies, we’re now inventing again, we’re building again and we’re producing again,” Berdichevsky said. “And it’s not just in Silicon Valley and in big cities — it’s happening in communities across the country, including right here in Moses Lake.”
The funds were awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Sila also contributed $300 million of its financing.
Sila and Group14 Technologies, another Moses Lake battery-parts manufacturer, are among 20 companies that received funds from the initiative, which was intended to expand domestic battery production, according to an announcement from President Joe Biden last year.
Berdichevsky said his company earned the award because it is the first to harness the powerful properties of silicon anodes for commercial use in lithium-ion batteries.
Anodes are the negatively charged components of batteries used in many products, including cellphones and electric vehicles.
These parts used to be made of lithium before being replaced by graphite material. But anodes of the future will be made of silicon — a material that can result in significantly higher energy storage, longer battery life and the ability to generate 10 times more charge than graphite, a company publication reads.
Berdichevsky said Sila engineers have made some 55,000 iterations of potential silicon anodes before creating its trademarked Titan Silicon, a silicon anode material that delivers a 20% energy density boost over the industry’s best-performing cells.
Giulia Siccardo, director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains, said during an event kicking off the official start of the Moses Lake project that this innovation can lead the way to lessening the nation’s dependency on graphite anodes that are, for the most part, manufactured in China.
“Some 90% of graphite is currently mined and processed in China, which is significant as we think about the risk that it poses to our supply chain and the risk that it creates in terms of disruption and instability,” Siccardo said.
Last month, in response to widened U.S. import controls, China announced a new set of export restrictions on certain graphite products, according to the Center of Strategic and International Studies.
This move proves dependency on Chinese technology is a risk to national security, Siccardo said.
“We know it’s against our national interest to have such vulnerability in our supply chain,” she said. “That is where Sila and Moses Lake come in with this breakthrough silicon anode technology.”
Not only is silicon technology more powerful than its graphite counterpart, it’s more efficient and cleaner.
According to a company publication, silicon anodes generate 50-70% less carbon dioxide per kilowatt than graphite during production. Sila will have the capability to produce an estimated 20 gigawatts of capacity from its Moses Lake campus by 2026.
This is enough to power more than 200,000 electric vehicles, according to the publication.
Gov. Jay Inslee said the technology will help usher in a “clean energy revolution” in the U.S. and help meet the state’s goal that all new vehicles sold in Washington will be powered by electricity by 2035.
“We should develop the electric car industry, because it is absolutely necessary to defeat climate change and also to build a base of industrial jobs,” Inslee said. “(Sila’s technology) is exciting for humanity, for the United States and it’s super exciting for central Washington.”
The potential labor needs for Moses Lake and the surrounding area could be substantial, according to Chris Dougher, vice president of operations.
Sila workers will be partnering with local high schools and vocational training programs, as well as Big Bend Community College and Columbia Basin College to recruit and train employees.
“We’ll start with about 100 employees, then scale up to about 500 people over the next few years,” Dougher said. “The skills needed for these jobs are teachable, and we believe that we can work together to make that happen.”
During that time, Sila will “build materials for about a million vehicles out of this facility — that’s a million vehicles with longer range, faster charge, as well as a cleaner life cycle.”
Company officials anticipate initial production of silicon anode materials to begin in 2025.
Mercedes-Benz is one of the facility’s first commercial customers and has selected Sila’s silicon anode for the batteries of its G-Class series of electric vehicles.
This will be the first vehicle powered by Sila battery technology.