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Toyota’s Big Bet On Solid State Batteries Could Boost The Entire Sector

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 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 solid-state arena just got a lot more competitive after the entry of the world's biggest automobile manufacturer, Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE:TM), with a major investment.

Here are five companies in the race to developing the next-gen crop of solid-state batteries.

#1. Toyota

For years, Toyota has had an eye on the solid-state sector, and even holds the highest number of SSB patents. However, the world's largest automaker has just 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.

#2. 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.

Related: Exxon Makes 20th Significant Crude Discovery Off Guyana

However, with no product to show for its efforts yet, QS stock has become a target for short-sellers, who have sent it crashing 75.3% in the year-to-date.

#3. Solid Power

With SSB technology growing in leaps and bounds, more companies are looking to tap into the massive potential of the nascent market. One such company is Colorado-based Solid Power.

Back in June, Solid Power announced plans to go public via a special purpose acquisition company, Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corporation III (NASDAQ:DCRC), at an enterprise value of $1.2 billion. The company revealed that Ford (NYSE:F) and the BMW Group (OTCPK:BMWYY) aim to utilize Solid Power's low-cost, high-energy battery technology in forthcoming electric vehicles.

Solid Power's balance sheet was significantly bolstered following its $135 million Series B Round (in which Ford and BMW participated), which is in addition to the $165 million PIPE and $350 million from DCRC's cash in trust, and assuming no redemptions by DCRC's public stockholders, Solid Power will receive upon closing, for a total amount raised of approximately $650 million.

Perhaps the single greatest development achievement that Solid Power can boast of is the manufacturability of its cells. 

As mentioned before, scalability is one of the greatest challenges for solid-state batteries. Solid Power has adopted Roll-to-roll manufacturing for its own manufacturing process. Since 2019, Solid Power has been operating its pilot plant, a facility capable of an annual output of 6.5 MWh per year. In contrast, QuantumScape does not currently operate a pilot plant of its own, though it plans to open one by 2023

By utilizing roll-to-roll manufacturing, Solid Power has been able to dramatically lower the need for their partners to retool existing production facilities, a costly and time-consuming endeavor. It also lowers the risk of manufacturing equipment used today becoming obsolete within the next decade. 

#4. Samsung

Last year, 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

In 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. Last year the company 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.

#5. Ilika plc

Ilika plc (OTCPK:ILIKF) is a UK company that engages in the design, development, and production of solid-state batteries primarily in the United Kingdom, Asia, Europe, and North America. It offers batteries for a range of applications in the industrial Internet of Things, electric vehicles, smart cities, consumer electronics, medical, and transportation sectors.

Ilika also accelerates the development of new materials for energy and electronics applications through its patented techniques. The company has developed solid state batteries, superalloys, fuel cells catalysts, replacement for piezoelectric materials, etc.

By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com

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