Simanaitis Says

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SOLID-STATE BATTERIES: WHEN? IF? WHOSE?

THIS IS A PARTICULARLY interesting time for solid-state batteries, those, as their name indicates, using a solid material rather than liquid means of conveying their ions from post to post. Way back in 2013, SimanaitisSays cited an advanced battery conference in Tokyo at which Toyota predicted that solid-electrolyte lithium-ion batteries would be in cars by 2020. I reported at the time, “Such ‘solid-state’ batteries have as much as four times the energy density of conventional ones. They also exhibit a chemical stability that allows a higher voltage and charging rate.”

Calendar Pages Fly. Here it is two years past 2020, and there are two identically titled YouTube videos by Future Unity: “Toyota FINALLY Reveals New Solid State Battery in 2022!” One was posted February 27, 2022; the other, March 22, 2022. 

Though there’s some redundancy, the March 22 video is more generally on batteries, while the February 27 one is more Toyota-focused. Both are well worth viewing, despite being multiply embedded with ads (which can be clicked away after a few seconds). 

Briefly, both videos cite advantages already noted of solid-state batteries. Both imply solid-state is again just around the corner, with Toyota among leaders in its development.

Above, this Toyota LQ Concept starred at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Below, it was later revealed as All-Solid-State battery-powered. Images from Future Unity YouTube, February 27, 2022. 

HEVS Versus BEVS Versus FCEVS. One interesting aspect is which type of electric vehicles will thrive: hybrids, as popularized by Toyota; battery EVs as promoted by Tesla; or fuel-cell cars like the Toyota Mirai, Hyundai Nexo, and (now discontinued, and only leased) Honda Clarity.

This Toyota Mirai was part of my “Wagner Norns and PCH Memories.”

I’ve long been a fan of hydrogen fuel cells, which others continue to describe as “the best technology always five years off.” Ouch.

Hybrids First. Autoline’s John McElroy interviewed Gill Pratt, head of the Toyota Research Institute and learned that Toyota sees hybrids as its first solid-state application. 

Image from Autoline.

There’s reason for this: The first production solid-state batteries are bound to be expensive; thus, put them to supplemental use rather than the sole propulsion. “Hybrids,” Autoline said, “will provide a perfect test for the technology before the automaker gets in too deep with a solid-state battery-powered EV.” 

Nissan News. By contrast, Automotive News, April 11, 2022, reports “Nissan Says It is Overcoming Solid-state EV Battery Challenges.” Hans Greimel writes, “The automaker believes it can deliver a battery that holds twice the energy of a lithium ion battery, charges in one-third the time and costs $75 per kilowatt-hour. Nissan also thinks it can whittle that cost to $65 before too long, achieving price parity with gasoline-powered cars” 

A Power/Safety Tradeoff. On the other hand, Greimel says, “The engineering guru leading Nissan’s quest for solid-state batteries wants to disabuse people of the notion that solid state is inherently safer than today’s lithium ion packs.”

“True,” Greimel continues, “next-generation solid-state batteries don’t have a flammable liquid electrolyte. But they do cram in a lot more energy, and that could make for some unpleasant fireworks if something goes haywire.”

The technological key, of course, is to design against such haywire scenarios. Nissan and other solid-state battery developers are up to the challenge, one of many confronting solid-state advancement.

Lab Bench to Pilot Plant to Full Run. “Right now,” Greimel says, “Nissan is taking only its first steps toward that goal, in a feasibility study laboratory where it is experimenting with the batteries in handmade, limited-run batches. But if all goes to plan, the small-scale, secretive workshop will lead to a pilot plant launch in 2024 and to mass-scale manufacturing in 2028.” 

More Than a Simple Lab Bench. Four-layer sets of cells are vacuum-sealed into aluminum foil pouches. This experimental process is performed through plexiglass glove boxes to maintain ultralow humidity and cleanliness. 

Image from Automotive News, April 11, 2022.

“Because the rooms are so dry,” Greimel says, “technicians are required to take hydration breaks every two hours. Right now, Nissan’s laboratory churns out only about 50 of these four-layer pouches a month. Just one electric vehicle… would need about 5000 such pouches.”

But then lots of other efficient, highly automated manufacturing processes originated on lab benches. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022 

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