Thursday, September 29

The next big electric car milestone will be solid state batteries: the big question is when will they reach the consumer market

The future of the electric car is inevitably linked to the development of the technologies involved in tuning batteries. And it is that this component, in addition to indirectly conditioning the performance of the vehicles, and in a direct and resounding way their autonomy and experience that they propose to us to users, accounts for approximately 40% of their cost.

The lithium chemistry used in today’s batteries has reached remarkable maturity. In fact, there are already electric cars with lithium-ion batteries circulating on our roads that offer us a very interesting autonomy. Even so, it is clear that the leading role that electric vehicles aspire to have in the medium term in the transport sector requires further development of battery technology.

Fortunately, the answer to this need has already begun to loom on the horizon. Batteries with solid electrolyte are called to replace conventional lithium-ion batteries, which has caused that practically all manufacturers of electric cars are dedicating resources to their development, either directly or financially supporting emerging companies specializing in the development of solid state batteries, such as QuantumScape or Solid Power.

Solid electrolyte batteries are set to replace conventional lithium-ion batteries, which has meant that practically all electric car manufacturers are dedicating resources to their development

The promises of this technology on paper look really good. Its best asset is a theoretical increase in the autonomy of electric cars up to 50%. This improvement is a direct consequence of a notable increase in energy density, which in solid state batteries will reach, according to QuantumScape, 500 Wh / kg, while lithium-ion batteries will fall below 300 Wh / kg.

However, this is not all. In addition, the companies that are working on this technology ensure that the battery charge will be up to six times faster, their useful life will be longer thanks to the elimination of the loss of capacity caused by the degradation of the anode, they will be more stable and safer batteries, and, to finish the play, they will be cheaper than current lithium-ion batteries.

So far everything sounds very good. Even too good. But for all this to be possible and these batteries reach the consumer market it is essential solve various challenges very important. And they will possibly be resolved, but it is precisely in this context in which what some manufacturers and others defend is uneven, which invites us to adopt a healthy skeptical position.

The big question is when will they arrive, and there are two sides with disparate promises

The first great challenge to be solved by the brands involved in the development of solid state batteries is the most obvious, and it is none other than the need to fine-tune a relatively new chemistry that makes the improvements discussed above possible without compromising the stability and longevity of the batteries.

Finding a solid electrolyte whose composition guarantees all this is not trivial, and, although silicon is postulated as a foundational element in these new batteries, the information that the manufacturers have made public reflects that there is still a lot of work to do.

Once the chemistry of solid-state batteries is resolved and has shown that it really offers tangible advantages over batteries with lithium salt electrolyte in liquid state, the next big challenge will come: scale this technology.

Translating innovations that have been shown to work well in laboratory-produced cells to multilayer batteries that are to be mass-manufactured and used in a real-life scenario, again, is not trivial. And during this process complications may arise.

In any case, these challenges have not prevented most electric car manufacturers from getting wet and announcing from the rooftops the date they expect start commercial rollout of your own solid state batteries. The funny thing is that the dates they flirt with are disparate.

Some brands have announced that they will have their solid electrolyte batteries ready in the middle of this decade, which puts us in the orbit of 2025 and 2026

Some brands have announced that they will have their solid electrolyte batteries ready in the middle of this decade, which puts us in the orbit of 2025 and 2026. However, other manufacturers are more conservative, which has encouraged them to set the landing date of its solid state batteries the last years of this decade, which places us between 2028 and 2030. Surprisingly the first ‘side’ is more numerous than the second.

Some of the brands that have set their sights in the years 2025 and 2026 They are BMW, Ford, the Stellantis group, Volkswagen, the Chinese manufacturer NIO and Toyota, while Nissan is one of the companies that has openly announced that it plans to have its solid-state battery electric cars ready from 2028.

The bet of all these brands seems robust, so we can assume that batteries with solid electrolyte will arrive. However, as we have just seen, it is not clear when they will. It is possible that by the middle of this decade an electric car equipped with this battery technology will already be available, but it will probably be a premium vehicle that, therefore, will not have a popular price.

It seems reasonable to assume that the technological scaling necessary for solid state batteries to be massively adopted by electric cars will not arrive before 2028 or 2029Therefore, at the end of this decade, the massive deployment of this technology could take place. Whatever happens, it will be interesting to keep track of him in the meantime. Fingers crossed that when these batteries arrive they really live up to the expectations they have generated.

Cover image | Kindel Media

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