Solid-state batteries promise an increase in popularity of electric cars, but technical mountains await

Solid-state battery technology is expected to be the shining armored knight of the electric car revolution, as it steps in to lower the cost of batteries and make a living with a rechargeable car just like an internal combustion engine (ICE). but better.

The problem is, the adoption timeline continues to slide, and a mass-market ready product is probably not this decade, leaving time for alternatives like fuel cells to catch up.

Solid-state batteries promise fast, ubiquitous charging and enough power to overtake ICE cars not only in the city, but also on the fast lane of the highways during the long-distance race into the summer sun.

Solid-state batteries are a work in progress at the moment, and the date of a possible triumphant start moves back as one problem is only solved to uncover another in some kind of high-tech game. mole. After an expected imminent debut, the mass market introduction date has moved back well beyond 2030 for many analysts, posing a problem for electric cars because then they have to be truly affordable for average workers. After all, by 2030 countries like Britain will have banned the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars, and major manufacturing countries like Germany, France and Italy may well join them, although the new German coalition has waited for the moment. If there aren’t new electric cars as expensive as the cheapest ICE cars – say € 10,000 ($ 11,200) – by 2030, a large number of people will be shut out of the market, leaving them behind. will be very anxious while waiting for the bus. Manufacturers will not be happy either because their sales are decimated.

Meanwhile, IHS Markit

EU battery-electric cars are expected to reach 50% of sales by 2030. In the United States, the target is for 50% of sales to be fully electric, rechargeable hybrid or battery-powered. fuel by 2030.

Anyone who invests in solid-state technology providing the magical path to electrical success by then will be disappointed.

“This problem will probably not be solved by 2030, because the (solid-state) technology has to be scalable and competent. With the current state of technology, there will be no way by 2030 to see electric cars affordable enough to create the absolutely necessary mass market for net zero (CO2), ”said Donald Sadoway, professor of chemistry of materials at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in an interview.

Sadoway says the solid state could be circumvented with better technology.

Current lithium-ion battery technology shifts from nickel-based chemistry to lithium iron phosphate (LFP), led by Tesla

. The adoption of the LFP will go some way in making electric cars more affordable. They are cheaper with lower energy density and lesser but acceptable range than nickel-based lithium-ion batteries, which will always be used for more expensive electric cars that require longer range.

It falls short of the cost, range, and convenience of ICE cars.

Better batteries are needed with higher energy density, safer and lower costs, and solid-state batteries should in theory be the key. These lithium metal batteries use solid electrodes and a solid electrolyte and promise to push the boundaries. The problem is that this technology is still experimental. Solid-state batteries have an inherent chemical defect. They degrade quickly after a number of charge-discharge cycles due to the build-up of lithium dendrites – thin, twig-like pieces of lithium that multiply and can puncture the battery, causing short circuits and damage. ‘other problems. Unlike lithium-ion batteries, solid-state batteries do not contain heavy liquid electrolytes. Instead, a solid electrolyte is used which can be glass, ceramic, or other solid material. Without the need for a liquid, solid state batteries can in theory be much denser and more compact, resulting in greater range and less prone to fire hazards.

News reports suggest that Chinese electric car maker NIO will offer the technology next year, Toyota and Volkswagen in 2025, while BMW, Stellantis, Mercedes, Renault-Nissan are offering various dates before 2030.

Fitch Solutions doesn’t expect solid-state batteries until 2030, which it says will increase energy density, fast charging and better thermal regulation than its liquid-electrolyte competitors.

LMC Automotive agrees that the inability to mass produce is a key issue.

“Only Toyota appears to be preparing to move to mass production relatively soon, but as the implementation date has been repeatedly postponed, we remain skeptical of an application in the short or even medium term,” LMC said. in a recent report.

UBS investment bank said the solid state would not show significant industrialization potential until the next decade.

British institution Faraday estimates that solid-state batteries will account for less than 5% of global transport batteries by 2030, reaching 30% by 2040, according to Automotive News Europe.

The solid before 2030? Dream, says Sadoway of MIT, because the technology is still under development.

“I don’t see any development that could allow production by 2030. It’s one thing to solve the problem, and another to solve it on a large scale and have a product at a price no higher than today. ‘hui,’ he said.

Sadoway is working on an aluminum-sulfur battery which he believes would be cheaper in scale and safer than lithium-ion because it is incapable of burning. He is looking for funds to finance a company aimed at developing the technology.

Sadoway said the problem holding electric cars back is that they are too expensive.

“The investment cost of electric cars is much higher than that of a conventional car. Why am I going to pay more for lower performance? pay more for less? Current technology will not be able to make the progress required for an affordable electric car. They are attractive, but much more expensive due to the price of the battery, the price difference is too big and only really attractive to the first-time high-net-worth users. We will not see widespread adoption under these circumstances. “

“I think it’s going to stagnate unless there is a major disruption in the battery chemistry for a gradual drop in price that will make the electric vehicle affordable,” Sadoway said.

Proponents of solid-state batteries say another benefit would be just 12 minutes to recharge, although that would still be about 3 times longer than an ICE car would take to recharge.

“12 minutes? In their dreams, ”Sadoway said.

If solid-state batteries take up to 10 more years to be ready for mass production and the market, is it possible that a rival technology like hydrogen fuel cells, currently perceived as also being used for power cars and SUVs, can move forward? and emerge as a powerful rival?

“Of course, hydrogen is presented as a possible alternative, but it comes down to the cost of the fuel cell and the entire infrastructure for refueling with hydrogen. It could be that a plurality of solutions emerge for net zero. In some places, hydrogen makes sense. It is not necessarily all or nothing. All of the hydrogen business is difficult – capital cost, durability, high complexity – and you have to be able to produce clean hydrogen and no one has that under control, the solutions are not simple, ”he said. Sadoway said.

There is no doubt that the electric car revolution is underway, mainly thanks to well-heeled early adopters, tons of freebies for taxpayers and, in Europe, a regulatory regime designed to make the sale of ICEs impossible as soon as possible.

Electric car sales forecasts now always seem to include the word exponential, but if battery technology fails to deliver the supposed improvements, many courageous assumptions about the extent of its victory by 2030 will be insufficient. This is unthinkable for many mass Volkswagen-led automakers who have gambled the ranch on the electric car.

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