Solid-state battery technology should be the knight in shining armour for the electric car revolution, as it steps in to slash the cost of batteries and make living with a plug-in car just like an internal combustion engine (ICE) only better.  Solid-state batteries promise fast, ubiquitous charging, and enough power to outrun ICE cars not just in the city, but on the fast lane of highways too.

What is a solid-state battery and how is it different to a lithium-ion battery?

Solid-state batteries have drawn a lot of interest from all corners of the energy industry. Having no flammable liquid electrolyte (hence “solid-state”), they skip many of the safety issues that traditional lithium-ion batteries have and the environmental issues of NMC batteries, without sacrificing power.

However, they’re still in the realm of research, and a new study has questioned the idea that they’d be inherently safer. A paper in Joule has compared solid-state batteries with their more commercialised lithium-ion counterparts, and found mixed results.

Solid-state and lithium-ion batteries both contain lithium (Li): in both, the Li+ ions move from one part of the battery to another, allowing negatively charged electrons to move through a circuit. The key difference is what the ions move through. A traditional lithium-ion battery, it’s a liquid electrolyte, while a solid-state battery would use a solid material. They’re technically more demanding to make, but they could be more efficient than normal lithium batteries.

What is the cost of solid-state batteries?

Prices of lithium-ion batteries have fallen by 89% during the past 12 years. In 2010, the price of lithium-ion batteries was approximately USD 1,100 /kWh while in 2020, it reached approximately USD 137 /kWh. Lithium-ion battery prices are expected to reach approximately USD 60 /kWh by 2030 according to many industry experts.

In 2021, Tesla announced plans to reduce the prices of lithium-ion EV batteries significantly during the next 2-3 years. Solid-state batteries are expected to cost approximately USD 80-90/ kWh by the same time according to various publications.

Therefore, by the time solid-state car batteries are mass-produced, most higher-end EVs are expected to use solid-state batteries while lower end EV producers are expected to prefer using lithium-ion batteries. When the prices of solid-state car batteries fall to the same levels as those of lithium-ion batteries, higher demand is expected for solid-state batteries, leading to the rapid growth of the market. 

Challenges with NMC batteries

NMC batteries offer a combination of Nickel, Manganese and Cobalt. They are sometimes known as Lithium Manganese Cobalt Oxide batteries. NMC batteries have a high specific energy or power. This limitation of either ‘energy’ or ‘power’ makes them more common for use in power tools or electric vehicles.

NMC batteries account for nearly 28 percent of global EV sales, and Fitch forecasts that the market share will grow to 63 percent by 2027. The NMC battery has a high cycle life suitable for both off-grid and very unstable grids, with commercial products featuring a 60 percent state of charge (SOC) greater than 6,000 cycles at 90 percent depth of discharge (DOD).  At present, batteries with cobalt (NMC) are preferred due to their high energy density.

However, safety remains an issue as NMC are prone to thermal runaways — especially as the devices get smaller. Thermal runaways may be caused by overcharging, an internal fault, physical damage to the battery, a hot environment or a combination of the above.

Value of Solid State Batteries for second life batteries

 With continued global growth of electric vehicles (EV), a new opportunity for the power sector is emerging: stationary storage powered by used EV batteries, which could exceed 200 gigawatt-hours by 2030.

Reuse can provide the most value in markets where there is demand for batteries for stationary energy-storage applications that require less-frequent battery cycling (for example, 100 to 300 cycles per year).

Based on cycling requirements, three applications are most suitable for second-life EV batteries: providing reserve energy capacity to maintain a utility’s power reliability at lower cost by displacing more expensive and less efficient assets (for instance, old combined-cycle gas turbines), deferring transmission and distribution investments, and taking advantage of power-arbitrage opportunities by storing renewable power for use during periods of scarcity, thus providing greater grid flexibility and firming to the grid.

In 2025, second-life batteries may be 30 to 70 percent less expensive than new ones in these applications, tying up significantly less capital per cycle.

What are the challenges in making solid state batteries?

In the paper From nanoscale interface characterization to sustainable energy storage using all-solid-state batteriespublished in Nature Nanotechnology, UCSD researchers outline four considerations that should stay at the forefront of solid-state battery development, namely: (1) stable chemical interfaces between electrolyte and electrodes, (2) effective tools for characterization, (3) sustainable manufacturing processes and (4) design for recyclability.

Strong environmental concerns surround the supply chain for battery materials and solid-state technology has the potential to address some of them if the right approach is taken. Designing solid-state batteries with recyclability and second-life usage in mind is key.

Which companies are working on solid state batteries?

Quantum Scape

Quantum Scape is a developer of solid state lithium-metal batteries. The battery has a cathode and solid-state ceramic separator that connected 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 lithium metal anode that generates high energy density charging for electric vehicles. It offers features like optimum charging time, solid-state separators are non-flammable, reduces manufacturing cost, etc.

Company’s Website: https://www.quantumscape.com/

Factorial Energy

The company uses a factorial electrolyte system technology and high-voltage and high-energy-density electrodes for its batteries. It provides solutions for electric vehicles, homes, and critical applications. Company’s solid state batteries offer an almost doubled energy density compared to today’s Li-ion battery cells. As a result, they promise an increase in range while at the same time ensuring short charging times. In November 2021, the start-up joined forces with Mercedes – Benz to jointly develop next-generation battery technology with the aim of testing prototype cells as early as possible.

Company’s Website: https://factorialenergy.com/

Cuberg

Cuberg is developing the next generation of lithium-ion batteries using a patented solid electrolyte created over 4 years of research. These batteries deliver not only dramatically increased energy density but also improved safety and durability. Cuberg’s batteries are based on a non-flammable electrolyte combined with a lightweight lithium metal anode. It was verified in 2020 by the U.S. Department of Energy, the cell architecture of the battery radically increases energy density and power while ensuring product reliability and safety.

Company’s Website: https://cuberg.net/

Conclusion

Solid-state batteries are a work in progress at the moment and the date for a possible triumphant debut recedes as one problem is solved only to unearth another in a kind of high-tech whack-a-mole game. From an expected imminent debut, the introduction date for mass markets has receded well past 2030 for many analysts, and this spells trouble for electric cars because they must be truly affordable by then for average wage earners.

After all, by 2030 countries like Britain will have banned the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars, and big manufacturing countries like Germany, France and Italy may well join them, hence advances in EV battery technology such as solid state batteries is a must.

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