The State of Solid-State Batteries

While the consensus is that Lithium ion batteries, which have dominated the markets for the past decade, may have reached their full potential, are solid-state batteries ready to emerge as the new, dominant form of portable, energy dense battery?

Lithium ion batteries came into their own because they were lightweight and could cycle between use. Solid state batteries currently being tested are attempting to be even more energy dense, durable, and affordable.

Going from a Lithium ion liquid or polymer electrolyte to a solid electrolyte, commercial solid-state batteries need to be smaller and cheaper on a reliable per kilowatt-hour basis. Improved durability and longer battery life mean less charging, quicker charging, and hopefully fewer concerns about recycling and disposal.

Finding a uniform, prime material for the solid-state portions of the battery that has both superior and efficient electrical conductivity properties, has stalled commercial viability in the past, with most developers believing lithium metal will provide the high stability and conductivity lacking in solid-state battery efforts thus far. 

The other hurdle is temperature. Lower temperatures make solid state batteries much less conductive. Higher temperatures pose a risk of leakage and other catastrophic damage. Ironically, room temperature seems to be the ideal window for conductivity, so for now that leaves out a lot of environments for potential use.

Major automakers like Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Hyundai, Daimler, and Volkswagen have made huge investments in solid-state research, with a focus on producing commercial vehicles first to test the market. Toyota is aiming for a 2020 release of a solid-state battery powered electric vehicle to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics, while other makers are aiming for 2025.

The electric vehicle market could see a lot of movement in the next 3 to 5 years. If competitive pricing, a 300 mile drive capability on a single charge, and sturdy, lighter vehicles with their weight distributed more evenly are the promise of solid-state, we truly have something to look forward to.