By Hyunjoo Jin

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A battery startup founded by a former Tesla engineer announced on Tuesday plans for U.S.-based mass production of next-generation materials aimed at cutting costs, boosting driving ranges and reducing the industry’s reliance on China.

Sila Nanotechnologies will invest in the low hundreds of millions of dollars in a new plant in Washington state due to open in 2024, Sila CEO Gene Berdichevsky told Reuters.

He said that since Tesla was founded in 2003, the price of electric car batteries had plateaued rather than falling as much as anticipated, so new materials could help lower the cost to consumers.

Automaker Daimler AG has a minority equity stake in unlisted Sila, which is also working with BMW. Sila raised an additional $590 million last year, boosting its valuation to an estimated $3.3 billion.

Berdichevsky said Sila would use the new plant in the city of Moses Lake to make silicon-based anode materials that can store 20% more energy than anodes that typically use graphite, 70% of which comes from China.

Graphite is on the U.S. critical minerals list but silicon is not, as the Biden administration aims to reduce reliance on China in the battery supply chain.

He said its new facility aims to deliver annual silicon-based anode production sufficient to power 10 gigawatt hours of batteries in 100,000 electric vehicles, with a goal to increase the capacity to power 2 million electric vehicles a year.

Sila runs a test production facility at its headquarters in Alameda, California that can produce battery materials for about 1,000 cars a year, though it is instead making materials used in fitness watches.

Berdichevsky said Sila was trying to address the challenges of scaling up production to meet the needs of carmakers.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a plan to use silicon-based anode in its new batteries at its Battery Day event in 2020 but it is not clear whether it is using the breakthrough technology. Tesla did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Jamie Freed)