Cutting-Edge Batteries From Amprius Dominate The World Solar Challenge

amprius battery pack in solar car

The Amprius battery pack in the third-placed Brunel ‘Nuna 12’ solar race car.

The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge is not just a race. It’s a tough test for solar-powered cars, travelling a 3,000-kilometre stretch from Darwin to Adelaide. Every year, this race shows off the latest and best in solar, battery and EV technology.

This year, something special happened. The only four cars with batteries from Silicon Valley battery startup Amprius snagged the top four spots. This makes me wonder: Did this battery tech give the teams an unfair advantage or did Amprius savvily choose to work with only the top teams. Or was it a bit of both?

winning car

The winning car from Belgian Solar Team, Innoptus, covered the 3000 km from Darwin to Adelaide with an incredible average speed of 88 kph and an Amprius battery pack inside.

front view of the winning car

rear view of winning innoptus car

Rules, Rules, and More Rules

The race has strict rules about energy storage to make sure it’s a fair and real test for new technologies. There’s a lot of detail in these rules, covering everything from the type and weight of the batteries to how they operate. For example, there’s a rule that solar cars can only have 20kg of Li-ion, or in Amprius’ case, Li-Polymer cells.

Cosmos Magazine quotes the event’s long-serving director Chris Selwood:

“Our regulations define the battery storage limits on the electrochemical compound. With this new [Amprius] technology that we’ve got out of Silicon Valley, it’s quite clear that the electrochemical compound falls within the regulations. The fact that there’s about 30% more [specific energy], because of the nanotechnology they’ve employed in the construction came as a surprise, and as a delight to those that were able to get hold of it”​

Let’s Talk Numbers

Amprius touts a remarkable 450 Wh/kg specific energy for their pouch batteries:

amprius pouch cell specs

Image: Amprius

The air-cooled battery packs in the cars, according to the teams I talked to, had a capacity of 8 kWh. Given the 20kg weight limit for battery packs, this indicates a specific energy closer to 400 Wh/kg. For comparison, Tesla’s top battery pack is estimated at around 290 Wh/kg.

A note on Energy Density vs Specific Energy of Batteries (from The SolarQuotes Glossary):

 

The higher the energy density of a battery the more energy it has per litre of volume. This is different from specific energy which refers to energy per kilogram. The higher the energy density the less space a battery will take up per kilowatt-hour. And the higher the specific energy the less a battery will weigh per kilowatt-hour.

A Bit About Amprius Technologies

Amprius Technologies started in 2008 and based in California (over the road from the Tesla factory), is all about making better batteries with silicon anodes that store more energy per kg compared to the usual graphite anodes, and can charge and discharge faster.

The limiting factor of this technology appears to be cycle life with Amprius only claiming ‘hundreds of cycles’ with the current tech:

amprius claims

From the Amprius website

What This Could Mean for EV Range

If Amprius can improve the cycle life of these batteries from ‘hundreds of cycles’, and if, for example, Tesla gets to use them, their cars could realistically see a 30% boost in range. The Tesla Model 3 Long Range could get a step change from 629 km to 817 km per charge1. That’s pretty exciting.

I wonder how many teams will choose Amprius batteries in the 2025 race.

Footnotes

  1. WLTP range – your results will vary
About Finn Peacock

I'm a Chartered Electrical Engineer, Solar and Energy Efficiency nut, dad, and the founder and CEO of SolarQuotes.com.au. I started SolarQuotes in 2009 and the SolarQuotes blog in 2013 with the belief that it’s more important to be truthful and objective than popular. My last "real job" was working for the CSIRO in their renewable energy division. Since 2009, I’ve helped over 700,000 Aussies get quotes for solar from installers I trust. Read my full bio.

Comments

  1. Ian Thompson says

    I’ve had some experience with nanotechnology LiPo batteries.
    Very good power outputs, and high power/capacity/weight ratios.
    However, I’ve found them to have a relatively low cycle life. May be great for a limited life solar challenge, but this doesn’t necessarily translate to good life in an EV. Maybe the Rules simply don’t cover this very important issue – shades of emissions “cycle beating” methods used in the early days of ICE testing.
    Unless, of course, vast improvements have been made in very recent times.

  2. Dennis worley says

    Thanks exciting new developments!
    I want them for my cyclecar project pls…battery weight is a big problem for HPVs and this article makes me want to get back into my workshop!

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