Solid-State Batteries, are they the future?
Battery technology has been taking off for the past few decades. Partly due to the rise of EV technology but also because of our ever connected world of phones, electronics, and the internet of things and the need for more compact rechargeable power. While current EV batteries have different metal and element compositions, the most widely known is lithium-ion batteries. Digital cameras, headphones, drones, and EV batteries use these to offer high power and recharging for long usage life. But is there anything better than this?
The answer is yes. But yes doesn’t mean it’s cheaper or more feasible, or that the technology is perfected, it just means there are more efficient methods of making higher density batteries (more density = more power). Solid-State Batteries could be the future. We’re not sure how far that future is, but it’s definitely coming.
Let’s dive deeper.
We don’t want to get too technical here, because we are believers in simple being better, and those who want to learn more will find resources and ways to do so. But let’s discuss how these batteries work and differ with each other.
Lithium-ion batteries and how they work:
Li Batteries are composed of an Anode and Cathode: The positive and negative battery ends.
Separator- Allows for ions to pass through the battery.
Electrolyte- Liquid that carries the ions back and forth when the battery is charging and discharging.
The main difference with SS batteries is instead of the electrolyte being a liquid, it is a solid. This could be ceramic, a metal, or a mix of different things. That being said, that perceivably small difference actually means a lot. While many car manufacturers have invested in SS batteries and dozens of startups are all trying to perfect the technology for mass production, there still isn’t a definitive timeline on when it will be ready for mass market production and adoption. Not to mention the cost at the moment is vastly more expensive than the current technologies being used today.
So knowing that the technology isn’t perfected, manufacturing being difficult, and the cost prohibitive, why is there so much fuss about SS batteries?
First let’s talk about the downsides of a traditional lithium-ion battery. One of the main downsides is the risk of explosion or fire. Lithium-ion EV batteries unfortunately have made the news in a few instances for raging fires caused by crashes and this liquid becoming inflamed and burning extremely hot for hours (1*). With a bunch of battery cells packed tightly together there is a lot of stored energy that if released in a short amount of time can keep burning. This process is called thermal runaway and occurs when a battery ignites and the chain reaction of more cells burning continues. EV batteries don’t burn as a traditional internal combustion engine would burn with gasoline, so consumers may be more worried about their safety. Besides being punctured by collision, it is also possible for the liquid to leak, which is another environmental concern. SS batteries don’t have these issues and therefore would be much safer when punctured or involved in accidents. They also are much denser with energy packed in tighter spaces which not only offers longer battery life, but also means they can be on average 50% + lighter than traditional lithium-ion batteries.
Seems like a decent upgrade, right? Safer, lighter, and the ability to squeeze more power in a smaller space sounds like a good deal to us. However, of course this comes at a cost. The first one being the technology is not perfected yet so we’ll continue to see money invested into R&D to make sure it’s stable. The second one is the price of manufacturing. With so much money already in lithium-ion batteries it would make sense if someone came up with technology that could harness the current manufacturing processes so they are able to seamlessly switch over without more expensive machinery. Another issue with SS batteries is since temperature changes affect how objects expand and contract, having the solid electrolyte poses some challenges due to breaking and fracturing. There are those who are working on this, but every company will have different methods with different degrees of success.
It would be important to mention that one of the leading battery types is not actually lithium-ion but rather Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP). We mentioned this in another article and the current leader is BYD with a version they call their "Blade" battery. These LFP batteries have withstood puncturing, being heated to 300 degrees Celsius and crushed by a semi-truck, all without any thermal runaway and fires (2*). So in reality SS batteries have to compete with these LFP batteries as the new frontrunners.
The next decade will be an exciting one for battery tech. When the intersection between long drivable range matches reasonable battery prices and strong charging infrastructure, we may just find ourselves over the tipping point of EV adoption with internal combustion engines a relic of the 20th century.
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