Tech Guru Bill Joy Unveils Battery to Challenge Lithium-Ion

Elon Musk isn’t the only visionary betting that the world will soon be reliant on batteries. Bill Joy, the Silicon Valley guru and Sun Microsystems Inc. co-founder, also envisions such dependence. He just thinks alkaline is a smarter way to go than lithium-ion.

On Thursday, Joy and Ionic Materials unveiled a solid-state alkaline battery at the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Energy Innovation Summit in Basalt, Colorado, that he says is safer and cheaper than the industry leader, lithium-ion. The appeal of alkaline: it could cost a tiny fraction of existing battery technologies and could be safer in delicate settings, such as aboard airplanes.

“What people didn’t really realize is that alkaline batteries could be made rechargable,” Joy said in a phone interview Thursday. “I think people had given up.”

The Ionic Materials investor envisions three ultimate applications for the polymer technology: consumer electronics, automotive and the power grid. But Joy acknowledged that the technology isn’t quite ready for prime-time. It has yet to be commercialized, and factories are needed to manufacture it. It could be ready for wider use within five years, he said.

On top of that, it would face an entrenched incumbent.

Lithium-Ion

Lithium-ion battery pack prices fell 73 percent from 2010 to 2016, said Logan Goldie-Scot, a San Francisco-based analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, in an email Thursday. “Technology improvements, manufacturing scale, competition between the major battery manufacturers continue to drive costs down. This will make it hard for alternative technologies to compete.”

Ionic expects to talk to potential partners about licenses. Global lithium-ion battery demand from electric vehicles is projected to grow from 21 gigawatt-hours in 2016 to 1,300 gigawatt-hours in 2030, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“Even if we grew 400 percent every year for a decade, we couldn’t meet the need” alone, Joy said. “We’re starting from a zero base. We don’t have a factory. We have a revolutionary material.”

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