Next-generation battery race has an early leader in solid state
Solid-state technology promises to deliver cheaper, safer batteries to boost adoption of EV’s, although scientists across development hubs in Japan, China and the US are struggling to crack the code. To bring EV’s driving range into line with a full tank of gas, an overhaul of the battery’s internal architecture focuses on solid materials instead of flammable liquids to enable charging and discharging.
Solid-state technology overcomes the practicality of current lithium-ion packs, which are hitting the limits of storage capacities, offering charge times of about 10 minutes from as much as several hours.
Currently, the best prototype with solid-state batteries is only powerful enough to propel a one-person vehicle across a Toyota Motor Corp.
Car companies such as Daimler AG and Fisker Inc. are working on the task, as are a Chinese lithium giant, the French oil company Total SA, and spinoffs from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University. Fisker may conduct vehicle tests as early as this year, while Toyota and Daimler timelines extend into the 2020s.
Solid-state batteries offer huge market potential, with viable technologies giving the upper hand in a market for all EV batteries totaling $84bn by 2025, according to Bloomberg NEF.
Replacement of flammable liquid electrolyte with solid materials such as ceramic, glass or a polymer also significant enhance the safety of batteries.
Japan’s Consortium for Lithium Ion Battery Technology and Evaluation Centre (LIBTEC), a group of more than 25 companies including Toyota, Panasonic Corp., and Nissan Motors, is backed by ~US$90m in government funding to accelerate a solution.
China’s Qingtao New Energy Research Institute will experiment with cars within two years and considers a commercial product possible by 2025.
“It’s a brutal battlefield actually making these batteries work, and nobody is anywhere close,” said Sam Jaffe, managing director at Boulder, Colorado-based Cairn Energy Research Advisors.
The biggest hope for a breakthrough rests on Toyota, according to rivals, academics and patent data.
Asia’s largest automaker has at least 233 patents or applications concerning the technology—almost triple the number of its closest competitor, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Law’s Tommy Shen. The company is investing 1.5tr yen ($13.9bn) in its battery business and plans to commercialise solid-state technology by the early 2020s, according to its annual report released in October.