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IF Insights: ‘Solid State’ of battery affair awaits electric vehicle industry

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Solid-state cells are the inevitable future of the electric vehicle industry, especially when it comes to raising the vehicles' safety and energy-related parameters, apart from ensuring faster recharge times

The electric vehicles (EVs) domain is known for its innovation-friendly environment, with advancements occurring at a pace surpassing anyone’s imagination.

As we enter 2024, the industry is abuzz with a breakthrough product called the ‘Solid State EV Batteries’, with automobile giants like Toyota, Tesla, Volkswagen, Hyundai and others ramping up their research and development activities in this particular innovation.

Investments Galore

Toyota is aiming to roll out its next-generation solid-state batteries by 2027, a move which will help the venture to double its vehicle range and lower charging time.

The Japanese automaker is eyeing to launch battery electric vehicles with existing lithium-ion (li-ion) and a second range with the Japanese automaker’s new and pricier solid-state batteries, as per the media reports.

Toyota announced the “breakthrough” in its solid-state battery efforts in 2023 and plans to mass-produce the product by 2028. These batteries will counter concerns such as extended charging time and the risk of catching fire associated with traditional Li-ion batteries.

Toyota, in October 2023, entered into a partnership with Tokyo-based petroleum company Idemitsu Kosan to jointly produce the solid-state battery material called sulphide solid electrolyte. The partnership will mass produce and establish a supply chain for solid electrolytes.

Since the electrolyte is a solid element, it allows ions, which convey electricity, to move faster, thus enabling shorter charging times, increased cruising ranges, and higher power output for electric vehicles. Solid-state batteries are also resistant to temperature changes.

Solid state batteries have drawbacks like cracks caused between the cathodes and anodes and the solid electrolytes, due to repeated charging, which ultimately affects the product’s performance. Idemitsu conducted the development of elemental technologies for solid-state batteries, which resulted in the creation of a highly flexible, adhesive, and crack-resistant solid electrolyte. And now the venture’s partnership with Toyota is set to redefine the EV industry practices, when it comes to battery usage in the vehicles.

By combining Idemitsu’s new solid electrolyte with Toyota’s cathode and anode materials and battery technologies, the Japanese automaker is all set to redefine the performance and durability of solid-state batteries.

Following Toyota, automobile giants like Volkswagen and Hyundai have become proactive in their solid-state battery plans.

US, China Enter The Game

Chinese EV company Nio put its new semi-solid state batteries to the test on a 14-hour, 650-mile journey in December 2023, as the venture’s CEO William Li drove the ET7 sedan from Shanghai to Xiamen, without stopping to charge along the way.

Nio’s industry peer Changan formed a strategic partnership with Ganfeng Lithium in 2023 to work on the development of solid-state batteries. The state-owned carmaker plans for mass production of solid-state battery EVs from 2025.

According to Academy of Sciences member and Tsinghua University professor Ouyang Minggao, China will be at the forefront of the solid-state battery market penetration effort as the nation’s EV companies have set up 130 GWh of solid-state battery factory capacity for 2025, and this will be further scaled up to over 500 GWh by 2030.

On the other hand, United States-based start-up EnergyX unveiled its proprietary SoLiS electrolyte for new solid-state EV battery technology, which will offer a longer lifespan, better range and charging performance, and less cost.

Another start-up named Factorial, saw its new solid-state EV battery called FEST (Factorial Electrolyte System Technology) garnering interest in 2021. Factorial’s new EV battery is a quasi-solid-state one, different from a full solid-state EV battery. In 2021, the technology made its market debut with the launch of a 40 Amp-hour version of the FEST battery.

Another US start-up Ion Storage Systems has come up with its “Ceramic Brain”, which, as per the reports, deploys powder provided by the materials specialist Saint-Gobain.

Colorado University spinoff ‘Solid Power’ announced in 2021 about expanding its electrolyte production capacity by adding a second factory in the Denver area. The facility is expected to quadruple the venture’s production footprint, as the latter’s goal is to produce 30 metric tons of electrolyte annually at the Thornton facility, or enough for roughly 200,000 cells for EVs.

In January 2024, Solid Power upgraded its relationship with the Korean battery maker SK On, which included an R&D commitment, apart from setting up a new production line at one of SK On’s Korean facilities, which will start functioning in 2025. SK On will use Solid Power’s electrolyte to validate the line, upon which the Korean venture will buy eight metric tonnes of electrolyte from Solid Power through 2030.

Is Technology a Game-Changer?

While most companies are using lithium batteries to power their vehicles, solid-state batteries are also regarded as safer as they do not need the flammable liquid that is required in traditional lithium-ion batteries, reducing the fire risk in vehicles. These batteries are also lighter than their traditional counterparts and require a shorter charging time.

“These batteries are expected to vastly improve the performance of EVs, allowing them to run over longer distances. However, there are some drawbacks. While solid-state batteries may perform better, their lifespan may be shorter, as they can eventually form cracks and need replacing,” said OilPrice.com.

A solid-state battery in an EV should charge to full capacity in around 10-15 minutes. As of 2024, lithium-ion cells usually guarantee 80% of their original capacity after 1000 charge cycles. Solid-state cells should significantly improve on that score.

Challenges Are Aplenty

Since most of the solid-state battery projects are in their initial stages, they will be only undergoing small-scale productions, which means that costs will be elevated. Only with these initial lots proving their practical worth, large-scale manufacturing will follow, which will then drive down the costs.

“Solid-state is a great technology. But it’s going to be just like lithium-ion was in terms of the length of time it will take to hit the market. And lithium-ion took a long time to get there” noted Bob Galyen, owner of Galyen Energy and former chief technology officer for the Chinese battery giant Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd. (CATL), while interacting with the IEEESpectrum.

In December 2023, Chinese automaker NIO announced about introduction of a 150-kilowatt-hour “semi-solid-state battery” that would theoretically offer a 1,000-km range. Experts pointed out that the product was not a solid-state one.

“This is in fact a fairly conventional NMC (nickel manganese cobalt) cell with a gel electrolyte that has been in production for 15 years and is typically referred to as lithium-polymer,” noted Sam Abuelsamid, principal research analyst for Guidehouse Insights, while speaking to IEEESpectrum.

“Technically the gel is considered a semi-solid because it has properties of both a solid and liquid. But in a cell, it lacks the properties of a true solid-state electrolyte,” Abuelsamid stated, while issuing the caution about semi-solid-state battery cells being punctured on impact.

Galyen further cited five “golden rules” of EV batteries: safety, performance, life, cost, and environmental, before the product gets commercially adopted by the industry.

“Most of the solid-state battery companies fall short on at least three of the five golden rules. I haven’t seen anyone publish life numbers that make any sense. And I haven’t seen cost numbers that are even close to competing with liquid-state, lithium-ion batteries,” Galyen stated, while admitting that Solid-state costs were about “where conventional lithium-ion batteries were a decade ago”.

As per Galyen, automakers still need to verify the performances of solid-state batteries on three crucial fronts, temperature, altitude, and shock and vibration.

The validation process alone will be time-consuming, as the product needs to be tested in real-world conditions. Also, EV manufacturers need to build dedicated solid-state battery factories, which may take two years, followed by the half-year running of prototype products and distributing them to customers, who will put these batteries through their duty cycles.

Galyen sees an extended period of seven or more years for the build-out, production, and validation of solid-state batteries.

The Final Verdict

Solid-state cells are the inevitable future of the electric vehicle industry, especially when it comes to raising the vehicles’ safety and energy-related parameters, apart from ensuring faster recharge times.

Given these advantages, automakers are eager to embrace the product. However, just like any innovation undergoing bumps from its prototype run to the commercial adoption, solid-state batteries too will take their sweet time to be mature enough for commercial usage. Will the industry be patient enough to deal with the fact? We have to wait and watch.

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