Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) airlines seem to be a dime a dozen. Many people have the perfect eccentric design for the electric air taxi of the future – or so they say. While most of these startups never make it out of the basement, there are some that we’ve been watching closely for years, and Lilium is one of them. That doesn’t mean it will succeed. Getting to commercial production and profitability is about as difficult as carrying a redwood on your back (not recommended for several reasons). But we still dream of a potential Lilium flight.
Good design imo
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 21, 2019
Lilium × Zenlabs
The latest news from Lilium is that it has picked a battery cell supplier, which happens to be a battery startup it invested in just last year. (“As an investor in Zenlabs starting in 2021, Lilium has exclusive rights to use the battery cell technology in commercial regional eVTOL applications,” the company notes.) On the one hand, it’s good to see that they still believe in batteries. On the other hand, the role of conflict of interest or overinvestment must also be considered could have in such cases. It is an option to guard. However, Lilium hasn’t just announced that it will use battery cells from Zenlabs, the battery startup mentioned above. The visionaries of eVTOL aircraft also explained in decent length and detail why are excited about Zenlabs cells.
A few interesting lines that jumped out at me from Lilium’s news article are these:
“While the past 15 years have seen tremendous advances in cell performance and industrialization in everything from electric cars to consumer electronics, designing cells for the unique needs of the aerospace industry has arguably not been a priority.
“Lilium has worked hard to develop a high-performance avionics battery system for our jets, focusing on the two key factors necessary to achieve our mission: performance and range, while working on expected certification requirements. Now that Lilium has advanced its patent applications for IP protection and independent third-party testing of its target cell technology has been completed, we can share more about our plans in this area.”
It’s true – as great as batteries for electric cars and trucks are, who designs batteries for the aerospace industry? In order for it to meet the needs, someone has to focus on it.
As for Zenlabs, it wasn’t a hit either. “Our team surveyed more than 100 companies across the battery value chain from raw material suppliers to cell developers, manufacturers and recycling companies,” Lilium said. “Based on this research, we concluded that Zenlabs case cells, lithium-ion batteries using a high-silicon anode and a high-nickel cathode, offer the best solution to meet our needs through performance, certification and mass production.”
The company further states that Lilium engineers have been working with Zenlabs engineers for two years. Taking the next step now means that these two years have been fruitful.
Let’s go through some of the rankings that Lilium released along with this news.
Lilium/Zenlabs battery cell statistics
“Figure 1 compares the commercially available state-of-the-art high-power cell (black), the commercially available state-of-the-art high-energy cell (red), and the Zenlabs cell (green).
“You can see that the advantage of the Zenlabs cell is its combination of excellent specific energy and specific power. With this comparison, the Zenlabs cell exceeds both the specific power capacity of a high-power cell and the specific energy capacity of a high-energy cell.
In short, Zenlabs batteries can maintain high performance for a decent amount of time without quickly depleting the energy stored in them. That’s what airplanes need.
While I’ve always thought the Lilium’s design looks pretty cool and appealing, one thing I’ve learned over the years is that what makes an EV is its batteries. Yes, the design is huge and critical, but so is the battery. What I never really thought about was that the aerospace industry would have to develop its own batteries tailored to its own specific needs.
The Lilium article covers more about the specific needs that Lilium has identified and how Zenlabs is meeting them, but let’s move on to the next critical issue – battery manufacturing.
Supply and production of Lilium mineral batteries
Going back a little further, on May 27th Lilium announced that it is working with Livent to further advance the research and development of high-performance batteries suitable for electric aviation. Livent is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of lithium battery products. This partnership alone is one big step towards production, even if it’s not specifically what the report was about.
“Partnering with Livent, a pioneer in lithium technology innovation and a world leader in lithium production for nearly eighty years, is an important step in securing Lilium’s future access to the high-performance battery cell technology that will power Lilium’s jets.” Indeed. “Livent supplies lithium to many of the world’s leading EV brands and battery manufacturers. As a fully integrated lithium producer, Livent uses its differentiated technological processes to both extract raw lithium and produce a range of specialty lithium products in an environmentally responsible, safe and sustainable manner.
Livent wouldn’t mess with an eVTOL company that he didn’t think was eventually headed for commercial viability, or at least had a solid shot at it.
Marina Yakovleva, Director of R&D and New Business Development at Livent, said: “Livent’s R&D team is excited about the opportunity to work closely with the leading scientists and engineers at Lilium to advance the field of e-mobility and batteries. technique. Innovation is in the DNA of both companies, as is a shared commitment to the development of electric transport and sustainability solutions. Together, we hope to support meaningful progress in realizing the potential of next-generation battery technologies and the decarbonisation of aviation.”
The second part of Lilium’s slightly more recent press release on Zenlabs battery development focused on manufacturing and new manufacturing partner CUSTOMCELLS. “CUSTOMCELLS is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of highly specialized lithium-ion battery cells for highly regulated industries,” writes Lilium. “They have already demonstrated their ability to produce high-reliability batteries at scale with all kinds of unique capability sets for several battery-powered applications from sports cars to the marine industry and even medical devices.” That doesn’t mean they’re going to break any records for making cheap lithium-ion batteries. But it does highlight an important point and again shows the foresight of the Lilium exec team: the aerospace industry is one of the most regulated industries in the world and you need manufacturing partners who are used to working in a highly regulated environment.
Naturally, price is also key, and I’m sure both partners will work together to reduce costs as much as possible, as both will see an order of magnitude more success if Lilium can compete in a sharp and well-guarded aviation environment. industry. “We will never be able to achieve our mission and effectively contribute to the decarbonisation of aviation mobility if our batteries cannot be produced in large quantities, with aviation quality levels and at a sustainable price,” Lilium states soberly.
Production of battery cells began in February 2022.
Lilium’s goal is to have an eVTOL aircraft that can fly ~250 km (155 mi). When will this Lilium Jet slide into the air? We’ll see. The Munich-based company aims to make this happen in Germany, the United States and Brazil in 2024. The company currently employs more than 750 people, including 400 aerospace engineers.
Do you appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality and reporting? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica member, supporter, technician or ambassador – or a patron on Patreon.