DETROIT (Sept. 29, 2:45 p.m. ET) — Two companies are racing to develop the Holy Grail of electric and hybrid vehicles: a solid-state battery.
The technology is not expected in showrooms until the next decade, one expert says, as researchers tackle energy storage and manufacturing challenges.
Solid-state batteries store energy in thin, solid film, not liquid. They would give electric vehicles more range than the current 70 miles or so. And they are lighter than current lithium ion batteries, which use a liquid electrolyte.
The batteries, also called thin-film batteries, do not catch fire if ruptured. Fire is a risk for lithium ion cells used in vehicles.
General Motors and the Japanese conglomerate Itochu Corp. have invested $4.2 million in one of the competitors, Sakti3 Inc. of Ann Arbor, Mich.
“Without the need to manage liquids in electrochemical cells, it is possible to improve energy density while reducing complexity,” said Ann Marie Sastry, CEO of Sakti3.
Meanwhile, researchers at University of Central Florida last year tested the battery chemistry of Planar Energy Devices Corp., another developer of solid-state battery technology. The test demonstrated conductivity comparable to that of a traditional battery, a good step forward.
Planar Energy, of Orlando, Fla., says it has identified a class of solid-state electrolytes capable of high energy density.
“This fundamental materials breakthrough, coupled with our proprietary low-cost manufacturing process, will render traditional chemical batteries obsolete,” said Scott Faris, CEO of Planar Energy. “It will allow solid-state battery fabrication that will enable manufacturers to increase their capacity by 200 to 300 percent, while reducing costs more than 50 percent.”
Bill Wallace, GM's director of global battery systems engineering, said: “Though risky, we do believe that solid-state lithium ion batteries have merit and we are working on their development. We see them on a potential five-year time horizon, assuming certain significant shortcomings can be resolved.”
Jon Bereisa, CEO of consulting firm Auto Lectrification in suburban Detroit, expects solid-state batteries to replace current lithium ion batteries between 2020 and 2025.