Toyota has released plans to build a prototype electric vehicle in 2021 powered by solid-state batteries. This game-changing EV technology relies on replacing the liquid electrolyte found in today’s lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries with a solid one, increasing energy density, lowering recharge times, lengthening service life, and reducing the risk of fire posed by liquid electrolytes exposed to the open air. However, the correct chemistry for solid-state battery electrolytes has, until recently, proven elusive, considering it must be stable, cheap to produce and easy to manufacture.
Japan’s auto industry is already gearing up in preparation of mass production of the batteries. Mitsui Mining and Smelting (Mitsui Kinzoku) has announced that it will build a pilot facility for the production of solid-state electrolytes. From 2021, the site will be equipped to produce ‘dozens of tons’ of solid-state electrolyte – sufficient supply for the number of prototype vehicles planned.Toyota, however, appears to have cracked the chemistry for its prototype, backed by its leading position in solid-state battery development underpinned by more than 1,000 patents in the field. The Japanese automaker claims some very impressive performance figures for the technology – a vehicle equipped with Toyota’s proposed battery pack would need just 10 minutes to recharge compared with 30 for today’s very best Li-ion packs. In addition, the vehicle should have roughly double the driving range of an equivalent Li-ion-powered vehicle.
Elsewhere, Idemitsu Kosan, a Japanese oil company is preparing to install a solid-state electrolyte production line at one of its Japanese facilities, while Sumitomo Chemical has also announced it will begin manufacturing solid-state battery materials in the near future. Most solid-state electrolytes are produced by solidifying sulphides on an industrial level – this is a process that plays to the established strengths of metal and chemical industries.
Toyota’s announcement makes it the first large automaker to deploy solid-state batteries in a prototype production vehicle. However, rivals are quickly gearing up to challenge it – Volkswagen’s long-standing tie-up with QuantumScape could potentially yield production solid-state batteries by 2025, while Nissan plans to start testing the technology in 2028. Leading EV manufacturer Tesla, however, has not immediately jumped onto the solid-state battery train, instead opting to further refine its existing lithium-ion battery tech for greater storage capacity and longevity. It is possible that it could join the solid-state ranks later on if the technology makes traditional lithium-ion cells obsolete.
The [prototype] vehicle should have roughly double the driving range of an equivalent Li-ion-powered vehicle.
Competition among battery producers is expected to heat up significantly as more combustion-powered vehicles are replaced by electric ones so all are racing to build out production facilities in anticipation of large orders of cells. Panasonic has gone from producing around 12GWh of cells per year in 2017 to a forecast 51GWh in 2020. Similarly, Chinese battery maker CATL had capacity for 2GWh of production in 2017 but has ramped up significantly to a forecast 45GWh by the end of 2020. Other cell makers including BYD, LG Chem and Samsung SDI have also rapidly ramped up production in recent years.
This article first appeared on GlobalData’s research platform, the Automotive Intelligence Center