The race is on. Mercedes-Benz enters boldly. But SS batteries may take years.
EV battery technology continues to accelerate as new vehicles hit the market — and a flood of all-electrics set to hit the roadways in 2022. Mercedes-Benz and Stellantis are investing in Massachusetts-based solid-state battery firm Factorial Energy, becoming the latest — and one of the largest — in a number of automakers to back development of solid-state batteries. Solid state battery technology promises improved capacity, faster charging times, and increased safety.
SS vs Lithium-ion
Here’s the Lithium-Ion Battery Problem. Because each individual battery pack can’t generate sufficient energy on its own, several have to be linked together in series, further adding to the weight. The cost of engineering, manufacturing, and installing battery packs makes up a considerable portion of the overall cost of an electric vehicle. And then there’s the liquid electrolyte….
Solid-state batteries eliminate the heavy liquid electrolyte found inside lithium-ion batteries. The replacement is a solid electrolyte, in the form of a glass, ceramics, or other materials. The overall structure of a solid-state battery resembles lithium-ion batteries — but without the need for a liquid. The result is a battery that can be much denser and compact. Another major advantage of the Factorial technology is its ability to slipstream into current manufacturing capabilities. Unlike most rivals, Factorial stated in a press release that its battery chemistry is “compatible with conventional lithium-ion battery manufacturing environments.”
Multiple solid-state battery firms have cropped up promising improvements in performance over the lithium-ion chemistry used in nearly all current U.S. electric cars. Factorial promises range improvements of up to 50% with its cells.
Repurposing Solid State technology.
Solid-state batteries aren’t a new thing, but their use in such a heavy-duty application, such as in an automobile, is. They’ve been in use for years in small devices like pacemakers, wearables, and RFID. Expectations surrounding solid-state batteries’ ability to vastly improve electric vehicles are high, to say the least. The use of a solid electrolyte should save space, due to its smaller footprint than traditional liquids. In the same space that a lithium-ion battery needs under a vehicle, a solid-state battery should have somewhere between two and 10 times the capacity. Their construction also means that they don’t need all of the monitoring, control, and cooling systems that lithium-ion batteries need to function properly. That means more room in the vehicle’s chassis for battery placement with less intrusion into the space typically occupied by passengers or mechanical components.
The groundswell of EV technology: A new industrial revolution.
Automakers see a future where the roads teem with highly efficient, powerful, technologically advanced vehicles — powered by safe, efficient solid state batteries.
And they’re on the move. Several other automakers are pursuing solid-state cells. Ford and BMW have invested in another solid-state tech company—Solid Power—which earlier this year claimed third-party safety tests showed its battery tech to be safer than current lithium-ion chemistry.
Ford’s plans with battery manufacturer SK Innovation are aimed at using about 70% of the equipment from lithium-ion cell production to scale up solid-state cells. Meanwhile BMW has targeted 2025 for a solid-state-powered vehicle prototype.
Volkswagen meanwhile has been investing in QuantumScape, a relationship that goes back to 2012. VW has said it will use solid-state batteries in a limited form by 2025.
Nissan just earlier this week pointed to 2028 as when it expects solid-state batteries to be production-ready—with a pilot plant coming online as soon as fiscal year 2024. Toyota has also indicated that it plans to introduce solid-state batteries later in the decade.
Here’s the bad news: Full production of solid state batteries may be years away.
Like other emerging technologies, solid-state batteries are expensive, which is due partly to development costs, but is also heavily related to the fact that they are hard to manufacture on a large scale. Automakers and battery manufacturers also have more work to do before solid-state batteries are ready for primetime. Despite their benefits over liquids, solid electrolytes present difficulties in finding the right balance of materials to deliver enough juice to power an electric motor for a car.
Solid-state batteries are, for now, still in development. Toyota aims to sell its first EV powered by a solid-state battery before 2030, while several other automakers are working in partnership with battery produces on their own projects. Notably, Volkswagen is working in partnership with QuantumScape, a California-based company that hopes to push its batteries into commercial use by 2024.
One thin is certain: This next jump in battery-tech could solve a lot of EV problems.