AA Car Care: Will solid state batteries take the anxiety out of EV ownership?

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Photos / Supplied

Photos / Supplied

Tech companies are deep in research and development to create new EV battery technology to steer away from lithium-ion and to embrace the benefits of what solid-state has to offer.

Industry giants like Samsung, Toyota, QuantumScape (an American start-up company with investors like Bill Gates, Volkswagen and SAIC Motor) are in the race to turn EV battery usage on its head.

It promises to be an EV owner’s dream, the answer to the most commonly perceived EV roadblocks - range anxiety and slow charge times. Just imagine being able to drive an EV further (up to 80 per cent), charge it faster (to 80 per cent in 10-15 minutes) and have a battery pack that outlasts the life expectancy of current batteries.

Lab test outcomes have revealed that if solid-state batteries are used in EVs, an expected range upwards of 482km can be achieved and a battery can maintain 80 per cent of its capacity for 800 cycles (which equates to at least 386,242km).

Solid-state batteries have been a while in the making, with the technology mentioned at various EV conferences. Despite this, there haven’t really been any real reports of anyone finding the right formula - until very recently.

Most EVs to date use “wet” lithium-ion batteries, which use liquid electrolytes to move energy around. These batteries can be slow to charge, can freeze up in sub-zero temperatures and contain flammable material that can be hazardous in the event of a crash.

Solid-state batteries are made from dry conductive materials and they’re non-combustible. So the concern of the battery catching fire in a crash situation can be diffused. In extremely detailed technical explanation, these batteries have an energy density of more than 1000 watt-hours per litre at the cell level, which is close to double that of commercial li-ion battery packs. This affects the energy a battery can deliver compared with its weight.

QuantumScape’s technology breakthrough is in the use of a ceramic “separator” to replace the liquid electrolyte used in conventional battery cells to act as the medium through which positive and negative ions move around. It’s not like conventional ceramics as they’re designed to be flexible, not rigid like your home crockery. Energy can continue to move throughout the cell in extremely cold temperatures of -30 degrees Celsius, which would otherwise cause batteries to fail.

Samsung’s solid-state breakthrough came as it decided to remove the lithium metal anodes used in solid-state batteries and replace them with a thin silver-carbon layer. As it’s those anodes that caused issues with the batteries short circuiting during charging (hence the lower life expectancy of a li-ion battery).

From lab to vehicle

The lab-generated outcome is a battery with a higher capacity and one which has a longer and safer life expectancy. It was also 50 per cent smaller than a conventional li-ion battery, which could certainly help with designing and building EVs.

We may not see this battery in full production for a few more years yet, but Toyota has indicated it could have a running prototype ready for testing in 2021 (reported by Nikkei Asia).

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