Toyota announce solid-state battery breakthrough

What’s happening? Toyota has announced a breakthrough in battery technology that could revolutionise the electric vehicle (EV) market. The Japanese automaker claims to have simplified the production of solid-state batteries (SSBs), which offer advantages over liquid-based batteries, such as faster charging times and increased driving range. Toyota believes it can halve the weight, size, and cost of the batteries, potentially making EVs more affordable and practical for consumers. The company aims to manufacture SSBs for use in EVs by 2025. If successful, this development could be a game-changer for the future of electric cars, addressing key limitations and accelerating their adoption. (The Guardian)

Why does this matter? SSBs are typically used to power small devices such as pacemakers and smartwatches. However, the battery’s use in vehicles has been restricted by several limitations with the young technology, including scaling for mass production, durability, and cost. Despite these challenges, Toyota claims to have simplified the manufacturing of a key material, meaning mass production is now possible. If founded, these claims will be seen as a “landmark moment” according to David Bailey, a professor of business economics at the University of Birmingham.

Solid-state advantages – In contrast to the liquid electrolytes used in lithium-ion batteries, SSBs employ thin layers of solid electrolytes to transport lithium ions between electrodes. Removing the flammable liquid electrolytes massively reduces the risk of explosion and fire, decreases weight and size, and increases energy density by 50%. Further, SSBs do not rely on cobalt and nickel, which have experienced supply constraints.

Challenging technology – The main barrier preventing SSBs from widespread adoption is their cost. In 2012, it was estimated that a 20Ah SSB would cost around $100,000 to produce, with one car requiring 800-1000 of these. Although costs have been reduced, the necessary materials and construction process remain complex. Another limitation of SSBs is their tendency to crack. SSBs expand during charging and shrink when discharging. This creates a complex engineering challenge as battery cells need to remain under compression to prevent internal layers from detaching. The development of advanced materials may be one solution, allowing pressure to be maintained while the cell expands and shrinks. Toyota claims to have remedied these issues, but details are yet to emerge.

EV turning point? The company claims to have designed an SSB with a range of over 700 miles and the ability to charge in 10 minutes or less. This is significant for consumers – a poll by Reuters found that 35% of Americans want an EV with a range of over 500 miles. Currently, the EV with the greatest range on the market is the Tesla Model S Long Range reaching 405 miles. Charge time is another crucial selling point. The dominant charging option currently available is the Tesla Supercharging Network, offering 199 miles in 15 minutes. This announcement has been dubbed the “kiss of death” for the internal combustion engine.

Aside from Tesla, every other major automaker is investing in SSB development, including Nissan which believes they will be able to mass produce SSBs by 2028 and Ford and BMW which have set a deadline of 2030.

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