Game Changing Solutions The Race to Develop Solid-State Batteries for EVs
Solid-state batteries are termed as the next generation of batteries for electric vehicles due to their many plus points over traditional lithium-ion batteries including higher energy density, quick charge and safer operations. The first player in the market to mass-produce these batteries will enjoy a significant advantage over its competitors, thus, chemical companies are also looking to develop unique solutions for these batteries.
Climate change has introduced us to many green and zero-carbon innovations, one of them being electric vehicles (EVs). EV markets are expanding quickly. Electric car sales accounted for 9 % of the global car market in 2021 – four times their market share in 2019. Together, China and Europe accounted for more than 85 % of global electric car sales in 2021, followed by the United States (10 %), where they more than doubled from 2020 to reach 630 000, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) 2022 titled ‘Global EV Outlook 2022’. The rising demand for electric vehicles also means an increase in the demand for batteries – a crucial and core element of EVs.
Lithium-ion batteries – not good enough?
Today, lithium-ion batteries are significantly being used in electric vehicles however, there a few issues with these batteries. For instance, rare earth minerals, used in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries, have to be sourced from mining which is a difficult task considering the limited resources at hand. In addition to this, other materials used to produce these batteries such as nickel and cobalt are not easily available. Another vital aspect is the safety issue of these batteries as they can catch fire if damaged or if not manufactured correctly. Hence, different players such as chemical companies, battery manufacturers and automotive companies are now working towards developing the next generation of batteries i.e. solid-state batteries (SSBs).
What are solid-state batteries?
The core difference between solid-state batteries and lithium-ion batteries is that solid-state batteries comprise of a solid electrolyte instead of a liquid electrolyte solution which is found in lithium-ion batteries. The general structure of solid-state batteries combines a solid electrolyte separator with an anolyte, a catholyte, and anode and cathode active materials. Various options exist for each of these components, opening up a wide range of possible combinations, according to a Fraunhofer report titled ‘Solid-State Battery Roadmap 2035+’ (see table below). This is what makes them stand out from lithium-ion batteries. Diverse companies are now in the process of exploring the ideal combination to develop these batteries. Solid-state batteries also offer a few advantages over lithium-ion batteries including higher energy density, quick charge and safer operations.
Chemical companies @work
LG Chem – At the beginning of this year, LG Chem had announced its plans to expand its eco-friendly materials, battery materials and new drugs business to achieve 50 billion dollars in revenue by 2030. The South Korean firm also launched its spinoff company LG Energy Solution to focus on and boost its battery business in the background of a global demand for electric vehicles. This included the production of solid-state batteries.
Last year, LG Energy Solution made headlines by launching a new and revolutionary solid state battery technology. In collaboration with the University of California San Diego, the firm created a silicon all-solid-state battery which makes use of both a solid-state electrolyte and an all-silicon anode which allows much faster charge rates (500 charge and discharge cycles with 80 % capacity retention) at room to low temperatures, while maintaining high energy densities, mentions a release by the company. The new battery technology claims to be safe, long lasting, and energy dense.
The company is now planning to set up a R&D base in Germany soon for the development of all-solid-state batteries, according to a report published by Business Korea in April 2022. It further mentions that Kim Je-young, an executive vice president of LG Energy Solution shared this information at the Next Generation Battery Seminar 2022 which was held at Coex in Seoul, South Korea. The report adds that the spokesperson also stated that the firm aims to commercialize its sulfide-based all-solid-state batteries by 2030 and its polymer-based all-solid-state batteries by 2026, an ambitious target set by the company.
Solvay – The Belgium-based chemical company Solvay has recently inaugurated a new pilot research unit for solid state batteries. Located at its La Rochelle plant in France, the unit aims at developing advanced inorganic materials for solid electrolytes and will deliver products on a semi-industrial scale. Funded by the European Commission’s Important Projects of Common European Interest (Ipcei) programme, the project is expected to conduct process studies in the near future in order to promote battery innovation for electric vehicles in Europe.
Solvay also invested in Solid Power way back in 2018, a US-based start-up firm which has now become one of the leading developers of solid-state battery cells and is backed by automotive giants – BMW and Ford.
BASF – The German major BASF already offers a wide range of solutions for e-mobility including the chemistry of the battery as well as lightweight components and is also collaborating with multiple players and universities to create innovative materials for all solid-state batteries.
For instance, BASF has partnered with the leading Chinese battery manufacturer and technology company Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd (CATL) to develop battery materials solutions including cathode active materials (Cam), which has the potential to be used in the production of these batteries. In addition to this, it has joined hands with battery cell manufacturer Svolt, which has lately manufactured prototype solid state cells, to advance the development of battery materials. The firm is also funding the Institute of Nanotechnology’s Battery and Electrochemistry Laboratory (Bella) with the Karlsruhe Institut of Technology (Kit) to develop these batteries.
Sumitomo Chemicals – Sumitomo Chemicals has also joined the race to develop these futuristic batteries. The firm has partnered with Japan’s Kyoto University to jointly develop materials and component technologies for the production of solid-state batteries. The industry-academia collaboration aims to optimally design as well as build a new solid-state battery system which is safe and one that offers high energy density.
Although a lot of work is ongoing in this space, there is still a lot to be achieved for commercial-scale development of these batteries. Technical difficulties, performance indicators, cost factors and industry chain support systems are some of the main challenges of producing these solid-state batteries. According to a press release by Storedot, a developer of lithium-ion batteries for EVs, solid state batteries are still at least a decade from mass production and that global automotive manufacturers should be considering interim technologies in the medium term, such as semi-solid batteries.
Towards a cleaner and greener future
As the industry accelerates its R&D activities for mass production of solid-state batteries in the coming decade, more and more of these batteries will be used in EVs which will help to decarbonize the transport sector and ensure a cleaner and greener future for all of us.