These new batteries, once just a science project, promise to revolutionize electric vehicles.
Greater range, faster charging, less loss of range and lower prices: this is all that new battery technology should bring to electric vehicles. While from a practical standpoint, I’m more excited about GM’s recent expansion of charging technologies like the Pilot and EVgo or the Tesla Supercharger, here are some new battery technologies that are serious contenders for my enthusiasm.
Sila Nanotechnologies is replacing graphite anodes, which make up most of today’s lithium-ion batteries and about 15 percent by weight, with a form of silicon that it says can increase the energy density of a cell by 20 to 20 percent when charged. The change is roughly similar to the Ford F-150’s 25 mpg this year, and the next model’s 35 mpg, which is a surprising jump.
Mercedes appears to be the first customer to make Sila technology an elite option for the new electric EQG for 2025. Energy density is especially important for heavy-duty vehicles like the EQG, because their leanness tends to magnify the shortcomings of current batteries, which have to be big and heavy to move big and heavy things, even for quite a few miles, resulting in noticeable virtuous circle.
Group 14 is another company to watch as it joins silicon and lithium, setting up Porsche as a key partner. OneD pursues a strategy to grow silicon nanowires on graphite anodes for lithium batteries. All of these approaches take advantage of the good performance and wide acceptance of lithium battery technology to bring them to market.
At Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, they recently announced a breakthrough in sodium-ion battery technology that promises to mock the temperature changes plaguing current Electric Vehicle batteries, charge them multiple times without degradation, and naturally extinguish without causing toxicity headaches. PNNL says it has found a way to control the destabilizing aspects of sodium-ion technology, but it has yet to address its much lower energy density compared to lithium-ion. As a bonus, the PNNL researchers believe they will be able to reduce or remove cobalt, a controversial toxic element in today’s electric vehicle batteries, from the formulation.
Solid-state battery technology has an apt name: It generally refers to batteries made of tightly packed hard materials, rather than the slightly softer, damper materials that make up typical lithium batteries.
The fact that all-solid-state batteries are made of hard materials and housed in a hard case isn’t necessarily why they perform better, but it’s an easy way to describe a design that has many benefits:
While a full charge in less than 30 minutes is pretty good today, solid-state batteries naturally strive for that. Short charging times have the potential to change the overall perception of electric vehicles.
Solid-state technology is a key part of GM’s plan to achieve a million-mile battery life.
The solid-state design promises little or no thermal runaway, which makes current lithium batteries synonymous with fire hazards. The aforementioned silicon cells are also said to eliminate this problem to a large extent.
Solid Power made headlines recently when it announced that it would start small-scale production with the backing of Ford and BMW. In particular, it can be produced on the production lines that make conventional lithium-ion batteries a potentially huge industrial advantage today. Mass production could arrive as early as 2024.
Perhaps the company that gets the most attention is VW-backed QuantumScape, which says the technology is no less than “the most promising approach to electric vehicles of the future.” QuantumScape has developed a ceramic separator between the anode and cathode that helps the battery charge from 10% to 80% in less than 15 minutes with little loss of capacity after repeated charging.
The Nikkei recently reported that Toyota is by far the world leader in solid-state battery patents, and said there will be a limited production car using the technology by 2025.
Buzzy Electric Vehicle newcomer Vinfast recently pledged to invest in solid-state battery maker ProLogium to produce batteries that could power the Vietnamese manufacturer’s electric vehicles by 2024.
Some of the target dates above seem pretty close, but take them with a grain of salt: Mass production dates for any of these battery technologies shouldn’t surprise anyone. Additionally, the automotive industry often takes a long time to go from a new technology that is technically available to widespread deployment in cheap cars. If you add in my general aversion to buying new cars, you’re slowly going further afield after five to ten years. I’d analyze EVs in terms of today’s offerings because these exciting new battery technologies may require a full car ownership cycle for the smart, value-conscious buyer.
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