Where Are those Solid-State Battery EVs? How Long Do We Have to Wait for Them and Why?

Solid-state batteries are the next iteration for battery technology, especially for EVs, but also for electronics and other applications. They make exciting promises, and it seems they are a huge improvement over the liquid electrolyte units. Unfortunately, they are not just around the corner.
Solid-state battery 6 photos
Photo: Solid Power
Battery Pack CostSolid State Battery Promises MuchObjective: first solid state car107 Ah Li-Metal batterySolid State at least 10 years away
The most popular type of battery these days is the lithium-ion liquid-electrolyte tech. More than ten years ago, the first mass-market Li-ion battery electric car was produced. Almost 30 years ago, Japanese company Sony released the first commercial lithium-ion battery. And the first fundamental works on lithium-ion batteries date from 50 years ago.

We can’t say it’s a very new technology, but for the first 40 years or so, their development was almost negligible. It was the Japanese who sparked the lithium-ion frenzy: Mitsubishi i-MiEV used Toshiba Super Charge Ion Battery (SCiB), while Nissan Leaf’s battery was supplied by Automotive Energy Supply Corporation, a joint venture of three Japan corporations.

Soon after, Tesla disrupted the car industry, helped by Panasonic (also Japanese!), which was its first major supplier. In 2023, all major carmakers have at least one EV in their portfolio, powered by lithium-ion batteries. And the biggest battery supplier is Chinese company CATL, followed by South Korean LG Chem.

The rise of Li-ion batteries. And their weaknesses

According to DOE, the EV battery pack cost dropped nearly 90% from 2008 to 2022. Compared to the 2008 estimate of more than $1,350/kWh, last year’s estimate was around $150/kWh. In 2021 it was closer to $140/kWh, but then Russia’s president started the horrible war on Ukraine, and we’re now experiencing a wild economic mess.

Battery Pack Cost
Photo: DOE
So, lithium-ion batteries are almost ten times cheaper than more than a decade ago. But electric cars still are not on par with ICEs in terms of the selling price, although government incentives make them more attractive than they used to be a few years ago.

Then there are all those compromises the client must live with: the range is not satisfying, charging times are too long, there’s some risk of fire, and battery lifetime raises some concerns. All of these are exaggerated by EV detractors, and then there are all those myths, fake news, and alternative facts that have gone viral on social media for some time now.

Still, according to McKinsey, the global demand for batteries is expected to grow 17 times in ten years from 219 GWh in 2019 to 3,612 GWh in 2030. The demand for Li-ion battery packs surged to 603 GWh in 2022, almost double than the demand in 2021. Almost 1,000 GWh/year is expected to come from North American battery plants in 2030.

But, for this to happen, the current lithium-ion technology must dramatically be improved. And that’s why, starting from around the 2010s, there’s been a new kid on the block: the solid-state battery tech.

Ditch the liquid, choose the solid

The main difference between this technology and today’s lithium-ion batteries is the replacement of the liquid electrolyte with a sort-of-solid one. The liquid electrolyte can be unstable under certain extreme temperatures, and it can lead to short circuits affecting the battery’s lifetime. It can even catch fire because it’s flammable.

By the way, Toyota is often blamed for its resistance to electrification, although it poured billions of dollars into the research and development of lithium-ion batteries. Their main excuse is the safety issues, which is partly true. On the other hand, you can never build a 100% safe car – just remember their “unintended acceleration” huge scandal in 2014.

Back to the solid electrolyte. It provides a larger electrochemical window, so it has more energy density than its liquid counterpart. Moreover, high-voltage cathode material can be used, along with high-energy-density lithium metal anode.

It means that, in theory, the energy density could go beyond 1,000 Wh/L – which is for times more than today’s batteries! Firstly, the range could be increased by 50% or even doubled. Likewise, DC fast-charging could last only 15-20 minutes or even less.

Solid State Battery Promises Much
Photo: Nissan
There’s also the benefit of a better lifetime, which could easily be increased to 15-20 years. And let’s not forget the much better safety because the solid electrolyte is not flammable. Better safety means less safety monitoring electronics and even less need for thermal management systems. Which, in return, requires a smaller and lighter battery pack.

According to Transport&Environment NGO, the most promising chemistry for solid-state batteries can reduce the battery carbon footprint of current NMC lithium-ion batteries by 24%. This value can be 39% if the solid-state battery is manufactured with the most sustainably sourced materials.

To sum it up, solid-state battery stores more energy with fewer materials, it’s lighter, faster to charge, and presumably cheaper. Oh, by the way again: Toyota is by far the leading holder of solid-state battery patents – it has 1,331 patents, three times more than the following company in the top.

Solid state is not solid proof for now

The solid-state battery is a promising technology, but you can’t buy such an electric car or a laptop just yet. And no, it’s not a Big Oil conspiracy. At least, not the 'flat earth' or '5G vaccine' kind. As you know, Big Oil is into carbon capture, hydrogen, or synthetic fuels.

Solid-state batteries tech has some hard-to-solve issues for now. One of them is the dendrite propagation process. The solid electrolyte simply cracks after a while, and the battery’s lifespan is too short.

For a while, it was thought the causes are of electrochemical nature, but MIT researchers showed that the problem is mechanical. The solid electrolyte material can be penetrated by lithium ions and this causes the volume of the electrodes to expand. This leads to microscopic cracks that allow dendrites to form.

A recent study by Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory evaluated solid-state and Li-ion battery heat release under several failure scenarios. The study found that short-circuited solid-state batteries can reach higher temperatures than conventional lithium-ion ones.

Solid-state batteries experience higher temperature rises because the same amount of heat is generated over a smaller mass and volume. Because of the aforementioned dendrites, short circuits are a common problem for solid-state batteries.

There are other issues related to special manufacturing conditions or how to efficiently pack all the elements. Companies and start-ups involved in solid-state battery development are probably telling their shareholders that these are just a few details to be taken care of. They forget to mention it’s the big-headache type of details.

Chasing the Holy Grail

Of course, these problems will eventually get solved. But it seems it will take more time than many analysts predicted. A 2021 report from research agency IDTechEx stated that most mass-production plans are likely to take off from 2025 onward. Now that year is more likely to be 2028.

In the last few years, there’s been a bonanza of investments in this field. All major carmakers want a piece of the pie, and there is a growing number of new companies researching solid-state batteries, like QuantumScape (backed by Volkswagen), Solid Power (backed by BMW Group, Ford, and Hyundai) or Ionic Materials (backed by Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi).

For instance, Stellantis, Mercedes-Benz, and Hyundai-KIA invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the Factorial Energy start-up. In 2021, it became the first to reach the 40 Amp-hour benchmark with a solid-state cell that works at room temperature.

Thus, Stellantis announced a bold objective: having the first competitive solid-state battery technology introduced by 2026. But it turns out that many other carmakers are only going to prepare demonstration and lab-testing vehicles at that time.

Objective\: first solid state car
Photo: Stellantis
Forecasts assert that in the 2030s, the battery market will get investments of more than $400 billion. The solid-state battery slice will be only $8 billion, with electric cars around 66%, followed by smartphones and electronics. If the forecasts are too optimistic, investors will be in trouble.

And it seems that this is the case with solid-state technology. One of the most promising start-ups, the Israeli StoreDot, stated at the end of 2022 that a workable solution for such a battery is at least ten years away. Many accused them of misleading assertions to protect their advantage from competition.

But the message was pretty clear: don’t expect the solid-state revolution to happen this decade. After all, Tesla not betting on solid-state for now is kind of a hint. Maybe we should take small steps and first give a chance to hybrid-lithium-metal batteries.

Chinese SES, formerly known as SolidEnergy Systems and backed by General Motors, unveiled the Apollo in 2021, a 107 Ah Li-Metal battery that was the largest in the world. It used a hybrid method that combines a liquid electrolyte and a solid coating, which is supposedly easier to implement than an all-solid solution.

But we still have to wait for 2024-2025 to see some real improvements in key issues. For now, 2023 doesn’t show any sign of a big breakthrough in solid-state tech. This is not good news for the transition to electromobility.

But at least we can be more down to earth when reading all that exciting and promising news about solid-state batteries. Disappointment is not an option at this point.
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About the author: Oraan Marc
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After graduating college with an automotive degree, Oraan went for a journalism career. 15 years went by and another switch turned him from a petrolhead into an electrohead, so watch his profile for insight into green tech, EVs of all kinds and alternative propulsion systems.
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