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Alex Kimani

Alex Kimani

Alex Kimani is a veteran finance writer, investor, engineer and researcher for Safehaven.com. 

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Car Giants Are Making Big Bets On Solid State Batteries

  • Over the past few years, EV makers have been touting solid-state batteries as the next breakthrough in EV technology
  • Toyota now officially leads the charge to mass produce solid-state batteries
  • Besides Toyota, GM and Nissan, tech companies like QuantumScape and Samsung are betting big on this type of battery

With the global electrification drive in full swing, electric cars have constantly been improving in terms of mileage, performance, charging time--and costs. 

And, Wright's law has so far proven to be right. According to Wright's Law, aka the learning curve effect, lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery cell costs fall by 28% for every cumulative doubling of units produced. 

The battery pack is the most expensive part of an electric vehicle, and the sticker prices of EVs have been falling along with declining battery costs. By 2023, the cost of Li-ion batteries is expected to fall to around $100/kWh--low enough for EVs to achieve price parity with their gas-powered brethren. 

Still, Li-ion batteries come with a suite of clear disadvantages. Capacity and ability to deliver peak charge deteriorates over time; they bleed a lot of heat and require weighty cooling systems to be integrated into their design, and the batteries can explode or catch fire if damaged in an accident thanks to the flammable liquid they contain.

Over the past few years, EV makers have been touting solid-state batteries as the next breakthrough in EV technology, often quoting insane performance and range. Solid-state batteries use a solid electrolyte that can take the form of ceramics, glass, sulfites or solid polymers as opposed to the liquid or polymer gel one found in conventional lithium-ion batteries. Solid-state batteries promise some two to ten times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries of the same size, thanks mainly to the solid electrolyte having a smaller footprint. That means more powerful batteries without extra space, or more compact battery packs without compromising on power, longer-range electric cars, and lighter EVs. They are also expected to charge faster. 

In fact, solid-state batteries are often viewed as the "Holy grail" of sorts in the battery industry.

And now the U.S. solid-state market is about to seriously charge up, with ICE heavyweights General Motors (NYSE:GM), Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE:TM), and Nissan Motor Corp. (OTCPK:NSANY)among others, now doubling down on solid-state batteries.

Here are some of the world's largest carmakers outside China that have renewed their push into solid-state batteries.

#1. Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi 

Last week, Nissan, Renault SA (OTCMKTS:RNSDF), and Mitsubishi (OTCPK:MSBHF) announced a €23bn ($25.9bn) investment in EVs. Alongside investing in current technologies, the alliance targets mass commercial production of all-solid-state batteries (ASSBs) by mid-2028.

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According to estimates by the JV, a move to ASSBs by mid-2028 will bring the price of EVs down to parity with internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, at around $65/kWh. ASSBs offer increased capacity and no risk of explosion, meaning expensive and weighty battery management systems can be removed. They can also be charged quickly and last for thousands more charging cycles than conventional lithium-ion cells.

#2. Toyota

For years, Toyota has had an eye on the solid-state sector, and even holds the highest number of SSB patents. However, last year, the world's largest automaker raised the stakes after announcing its intention to invest over $13.5 billion by 2030 to develop next-generation batteries including solid-state batteries.

The Japanese automaker says it aims to reduce the cost of its batteries by 30% or more by working on the materials used in manufacturing batteries and also by improving power consumption.

Toyota now officially leads the charge to mass produce solid-state batteries, which could become called a potential game changer for automakers because they are "more energy dense, charge faster and are less prone to catching fire." The company could use solid-state batteries for hybrid electric vehicles such as the Prius.

Also significant: The company has provided a short look at a prototype vehicle running with solid-state batteries. Readers should note that many SSB startups lack working prototypes.

Toyota is one of the leading ICE companies that have vowed to go all out in their electrification drive, and the company's deep pockets could accelerate its development efforts of solid-state batteries. Another big advantage: Unlike other companies on this list, Toyota is a mature company with a thriving business, meaning the stock performance is unlikely to be affected much by its SSB prospects, especially in the early stages of development.

#3. General Motors Last week, General Motors announced a further $7bn in EV supply chain investment, to be shared among four of its factories, including one that produces GM's Ultium energy storage platform. 

While not a solid-state battery, Ultium is being developed in conjunction with South Korean firm Posco, which is developing solid-state cells. GM has previously stated its intention to move into the technology.

Related: Oil Production Vessel Explodes Offshore Nigeria

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Recent EV launches and debuts from GM include the GMC Hummer EV, Cadillac LYRIQ, Chevrolet Equinox EV, and Chevrolet Silverado EV. The far-reaching plan from the Detroit automaker is to create the broadest EV portfolio of any automaker and become a U.S. EV leader by mid-decade.

#4. QuantumScape

San Jose, California-based QuantumScape Corporation (NYSE:QS) is a development stage company that engages in the development and commercialization of solid-state lithium-metal batteries for electric vehicles and other applications. The company is backed by Volkswagen (OTCPK:VWAGY), Bill Gates, and SAIC Motors and is regarded as a leader in solid-state batteries.

 QuantumScape's solid-state batteries feature a cathode and solid-state ceramic separator that connects to an anode electric contact. When the battery gets charged, the lithium in the cathode gets separated and passes through the ceramic separator that produces a lithium metal anode that generates high energy density charging for electric vehicles. QuantumScape's battery has significant advantages over lithium-ion batteries, including:

  • Fast charging of 0% to 80% in less than 15 mins compared to 10% to 80% charge in 60 mins for Li-Ion batteries in an EV sedan.
  •  Lower manufacturing cost due to the elimination of anode host material and manufacturing cost. The company estimates that its batteries will have manufacturing costs 17% lower than Li-Ion.
  • Significantly better range due to 80%+ higher energy density relative to Li-Ion batteries. Vehicle range is expected to improve by 50-80%.
  • Significantly longer battery life. QuantumScape single layer cells have shown over 1,000 cycles to a median of over 90% energy retention.

QuantumScape expects to deliver prototype samples into commercially relevant form with dozens of layers by 2022 and enter commercial production between 2024 and 2025.

Last week, QuantumScape said its new cells completed 400 consecutive 15-minute charging cycles from 10pc to 80pc of capacity and retained well above 80pc battery health — a first in the solid-state market. The typical life of a current lithium-ion battery is 2,000-3,000 cycles, before significant deterioration, but solid-state batteries could reach 10,000 cycles at a high density. A 15-minute charging time also brings EVs much closer to ICE vehicles in terms of refueling time.

Two weeks ago, QuantumScape signed a multi-year deal with Fluence Energy (NASDAQ:FLNC) to introduce its solid-state lithium-metal battery technology into Fluence's proprietary stationary energy storage applications.

#5. Samsung

Two years ago, smartphone Samsung (OTCPK:SSNLF) unveiled high-performance, long-lasting all-solid-state batteries. The prototype pouch cell that the team developed is capable of powering an EV for up to 800km on a single charge and features a cycle life of over 1,000 charges

Last May, Samsung announced that it will develop large all-solid-state battery cells and prototype all-solid-state battery cells by 2025 and kick off mass production in 2027. Samsung is only second to Toyota when it comes to the number of international patents related to all-solid-state battery technology.

Samsung has been working on all-solid-state batteries since 2008. The company has even demo'ed an original technique whereby the service life and safety of an all-solid-state battery can be enhanced, and its size halved at the same time.

By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com

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