Let’s face the hard facts, the battery is the primary limiting factor for Electric Vehicles (EVs), second to the charging infrastructure, and if we’re going to fit EVs into the current American lifestyle battery technology is just going to have to get better, quickly. Fortunately, there’s such a thing as solid-state batteries, which are essentially better in every way when compared to the current traditional lithium-ion batteries that we find in EVs sold today.
What is a Solid-State Battery?
Solid-state batteries are fundamentally rechargeable batteries that are similar in their overall structure to today’s lithium-ion battery. However, solid-state batteries differ in many ways where it features a solid electrolyte instead of a liquid one found in lithium-ion packs. Apart from the fundamentals of its electrolyte, in a nutshell, solid-state batteries have less mass, offer more energy density, recharge faster, have a longer cycle life, and are safer than what we have in today’s lithium-ion batteries.
Currently, the drawback to solid-state batteries is that they have a complex method of manufacturing – most of their components and build of the components are being extensively tested and have not reached a point of mass production allowing them to be fitted in new EVs on a mass scale. Conversely, solid-state batteries are currently used in small devices on a mass scale, such as in wearables. Building them on a larger scale for EVs poses some of the issues and requires much more extensive testing to better the delicate manufacturing process.
However, we’re almost there as BMW and Ford are primary investors in the technology, and companies like Solid Power are expected to be among the first to supply solid-state batteries on a mass scale for new EVs, which could very well be Fords and BMWs at first starting in 2026. Toyota and Volkswagen are also big investors in the solid-state battery tech and may be additional frontrunners to roll out the tech on new vehicles. Once production ramps up after all the proper R&D has concluded initially the prices for solid-state batteries may be at a lower cost than what we have now in lithium-ion packs. Especially, if we take into consideration their higher energy density, which will make packaging smaller and lighter yielding better range and overall performance in a vehicle application.
Another excellent benefit to solid-state battery tech is the current claims of them being able to be charged from a 10% state of charge up to 90% in under 15 minutes at a 2C charge rate. That’s unheard of right now and could start to help revolutionize the EV industry provided that the charging infrastructure is up to the task. That could put EVs nearly on par for charging times as the time it takes to fill a tank of gasoline.
Fast Charging Solid-State Batteries Is… Good
New forward-thinking control units and clever manufacturing of solid-state batteries look to avoid the issue of fast charging wearing out a battery. Solid Power is leading the charge (pun intended) to prevent lithium metal spikes (dendrites) during fast charging rates and so far, tests have uncovered excellent results in the life span and stability of batteries subjected to fast charging. The life cycles of solid-state batteries could outlast the vehicle!
The extensive testing of solid-state batteries has led experts to believe that such batteries may very well outlast the life span of a vehicle considering that Solid State expects their production cells to last 400,000 miles. That means solid-state packs have the potential of lasting longer than the average vehicle on the road today, which eventually leads to a better environmental footprint. The tests, so far, reveal that solid-state batteries retain 80% of their original capacity after 650 to 1,000 charging cycles. Those tests take into consideration of using a DC fast charger every 5th cycle on the low end and normal charging rates at moderate temperatures at the high end.
Solid-State Safety Excels
Most of us have heard the horror stories of EVs burning to the ground because of some accident or failure of the battery mostly due to penetration or damage to several cells. Most of those fires were a result of the combustible material in current lithium-ion batteries and could not be extinguished. Most of the fires forced authorities to allow the battery to “burn out” or immerse the entire vehicle and battery into a pool of water contained in a dumpster of some sort. Well, we’re happy to discover through testing by Solid Power that their solid-state batteries have had only “benign failures” as they put it. That means no combusting or flaming fires, loss of material, venting, and no extreme temperatures. The NHTSA and vehicle manufacturers will be happy to have “safer” EVs on the road, even though they are already touted as being some of the safest vehicles due to their unique build structure and low center of gravity vs. an Internal Combustion Engine vehicle. Simply put, the way companies like Solid Power are manufacturing solid-state batteries for testing use solid-polymer and ceramic electrolytes in place of the liquid electrolyte found in lithium-ion batteries, which is usually one of the primary culprits of fires.
The Grey Areas
In researching lithium-ion batteries versus solid-state batteries we’ve thus far uncovered that solid-state batteries still utilize lithium. As you and many environmentalists know, lithium mining is a huge detrimental factor to the environment and may remain, for now, in battery composition. However, in knowing that solid-state batteries will have so many winning factors over current lithium-ion batteries, and factoring in the much higher energy density, the use of lithium will ultimately be smaller. We will continue to dig and uncover additional information on this very issue and will be happy to report back once we conclude and verify some definitive findings on this specific factor. For now, it’s a messy grey area that deserves much more research and answers.
Ultimately, solid-state batteries are the way to go. We can hope that a move to the new tech takes place sooner rather than later if we’re going to see a bright and viable EV future, at least here in America with many major manufacturers set on converting their fleet to being fully electric in the next 10 to 20 years.