Are Solid State Batteries The Key To Mass EV Adoption?

There is little space for argument that the biggest problem with mass EV adoption is the high cost and insufficient reliability of lithium-ion batteries. While it’s true that costs have fallen considerably over the last decade or so, they are still uncomfortably high for most drivers, not to mention their flammability and the risk of overcharging and the resulting death of the battery. But, according to industry experts, a better alternative to Li-ion batteries could be looming on the horizon: solid-state batteries.

In a recent report from S&P Global, Platts cites a note to clients from BMO Research that said solid-state batteries for electric vehicles could hit the markets in a decade. From a certain perspective this is not very soon. This is the perspective of those eager to see EVs take over roads from ICE cars. Yet from a different, more patient perspective, a decade is nothing: until recently nobody would risk setting a timeline for the solid-state battery evolution.

Why is this so important? "Following detailed analysis of peer-reviewed papers and speaking with battery experts, we believe switching out the current liquid electrolytes for solid materials could be the key to achieving mass market EV penetration," Colin Hamilton, analyst with BMO, told S&P Global Platts. "However,” he added, “in our view we are at least 10 years away from perfecting the chemistry and there are also further developmental risks to consider."

It’s notable that a senior Panasonic executive recently, and separately, chimed in with the ten-year timeline. Tom Gebhardt, chief executive of Panasonic North America, told Business Insider this week solid-state batteries were at least ten years away and in the meantime Li-ion batteries would continue to improve in terms of cost, capacity, and reliability.

Panasonic makes batteries for Tesla, which might suggest a bias in favor of liquid-electrolyte technology but the fact is that everyone is looking for more energy-dense, cheaper, and reliable batteries. They would indeed change the game, only, according to Gebhardt, this won’t happen overnight but rather gradually over a longer period of time.

Meanwhile, news of progress in solid-state batteries abound. Ionic Materials, a polymer maker, recently announced a solid-state battery that addresses the liquid electrolyte issues of lithium ion batteries, chief among them flammability. Speaking to CNBC, the CEO of the company, Mike Zimmerman, said in addition to eliminating the flammability problem, the Ionic Materials batteries, featuring a polymer for an electrolyte, are also more durable and have a greater capacity than their chief competitor. Also, they are cheaper, Zimmerman said.

In other recent news, famous car designer Henrik Fisker, who has been working on electric cars for several years, said his startup Fisker has secured strategic funding from Caterpillar to develop a solid-state battery. That’s after last year, Electrek recalls, Fisker announced his company had developed a solid-state battery with more than double the energy density of Li-ion batteries, which would allow the Fisker car to have a range of more than 500 miles. An outrageous claim for some and a doubtful feat for most but if Caterpillar is putting money into it, there may be something to these claims.

Sadly for those of a more inquisitive nature, battery developers prefer to be mostly quiet about the specificities of what they are working on. Given the importance of a reliable and affordable battery for the mass adoption of EVs, this is only understandable. Yet given the amount of effort going into this Holy Grail of EVs, sooner or later someone will make a viable scalable solid-state battery. It may take ten years or more, but it’s bound to happen.

By Irina Slav for