For the past couple of years, there has been massive interest in electric cars as the side effects and limitations of internal combustion engines became more apparent. This has in turn, put the spotlight on battery technology as batteries are crucial to EVs. A couple of well-funded companies are now looking to push the U.S. into the forefront of the global battery manufacturing industry with a new technology that could even surpass today’s lithium ion batteries, all-solid-state batteries (“ASSBs”).
These all-solid-state batteries are expected to be safer and more energy-dense than the lithium ion products used in today’s electric vehicles and battery systems. ASSBs feature a solid electrolyte, usually made from a ceramic material, rather than the liquid electrolyte found in lithium-ion batteries. “Lithium-ion today, with a metal-oxide cathode and carbon-based anode, is starting to approach its theoretical limits,” says Solid Power CEO Doug Campbell. The firm, alongside companies like Ionic Materials, QuantamScape and Sion Power are among the first in America to develop all-solid-state batteries.
According to Campbell, current lithium-ion technologies might achieve specific energy of up to 300 watt-hours per kilogram, but not much more. “Solid-state is a platform that allows things like metallic lithium as a cathode. That’s perhaps the most direct pathway to significantly increasing the energy,” he says. Since ASSBs do not have liquid electrolytes that are susceptible to thermal runaway and can catch fire, they should be safer. Since current lithium-ion products require costly thermal control systems to prevent this from happening, “a safer battery pack is a lower cost battery pack,” Campbell says.
The excitement around ASSBs has drawn plenty of investor attention. Massachusetts based company Ionic Materials has received monies from a fund backed by Nissan, Mitsubishi and Renault. Solid Power, which is based in Colorado, has gotten funds from Samsung and Hyundai. U.S. investments in ASSB and advanced lithium-ion players amounted to $300 million in 2018, $250 million in 2019 and $200 million so far in 2020, according to Wood Mackenzie.
However, it will be a long ways before ASSB technology is finally introduced into the market. For the transportation market especially, “you will not see solid-state widely deployed until probably the middle part of the decade,” Campbell says. James Frith, head of energy storage at the analyst firm BloombergNEF sets 2025 as a realistic timeline for the widespread commercialization of ASSBs. Meanwhile, you can bet that entities like Fisker Inc. (NYSE: SPAQ) are paying close attention to the way the battery industry is evolving.
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