The State of Solid-State – How European Companies Plan on Taking the Lead

Solid-state batteries (SSB) are a technology that gets a lot of buzz at the moment. They offer many benefits including fast charging, high capacities, withstanding extreme temperatures, and increased safety. Many OEMs have also recognized that potential and plan on including SSB in their vehicles in the next couple of years. If you don’t know what solid-state batteries are or if you want a refresher on their benefits: I wrote a brief article on SSB and their benefits.

Different generations of solid-state batteries. Credit: Solid Power

Who is Leading the Market?

As of today, there isn’t really a market for SSB, since they are yet to be produced at scale. However, it’s projected to grow by a factor of 100 over the next ten years – from $19.6M in 2020 to $1.9B in 2030. In the field of conventional batteries as well as SSB, Asia and the United States have been driving the developments forward:

Number of solid-state battery patents published in 2018, by country. Data source: Statista

Especially Toyota and Samsung had a head-start in SSB. In 2020, Toyota presented a battery that would allow an EV to travel 500km and charge from 0 to full in 10 min. The recent progress was made possible, in part, by public funding. In 2018, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry granted around $14M to a consortium called Libtec for the development of SSB. This consortium included, among others, Panasonic, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota. Honda is another company that has announced that they plan on integrating solid-state batteries in their EVs in the future. However, specifications as to when and which batteries will be used are unclear.

Another pioneer is Samsung, whose battery promises a whopping 800km on one charge as well as a lifespan of 1,000 charging cycles.

How do European Companies Plan on Competing with Asian Automakers?

Aside from the Asian leaders in the market, European OEMs have also recognized the potential of solid-state batteries. They are either stepping up their research efforts or are cooperating with other companies to try to get the upper hand in the field.

Volkswagen is one of the companies that are very public in their goals to produce 20 GWh worth of SSB a year starting by 2025. They have invested $300M in QuantumScape, a startup from California. The company promises cells that charge from 0 to 80% in 15 minutes, an 80% longer range, an increased lifespan, and lower cost due to eliminating the anode material. These cells feature an anode-free design with lithium metal instead of a graphite or silicon anode, a ceramic separator, and an unspecified solid electrolyte.

QuantumScape has been in the news in the last couple of weeks due to being accused by short-seller Scorpion Capital of deceiving their investors and the public with misleading numbers on the performance of their cells. These claims however are debatable.

BMW takes a different approach. This week, the company spoke on its intentions to advance the field of solid-state batteries. Frank Weber, a member of the board announced:

“We are doing intensive research on solid-state battery technology. By the end of the decade, we will be implementing an automotive-compatible solid-state battery for series production. We plan to show a first demonstrator vehicle featuring this technology well before 2025.”

Frank Weber, BMW
BMW is playing a leading role in European battery development. Credit: BMW

For these research efforts, the German Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy has granted BMW 68 M € from the IPCEI 1, a fund for Important Projects of Common European Interest.

However, as of today, BMW does not plan on producing its own cells. Which company they plan on working with is yet to be revealed. In the past, BMW has invested in Solid Power, a startup coined on developing next-generation solid-state batteries. What came of this collaborative effort (announced in 2017) has not been released.

Daimler already calls itself a pioneer in the implementation of SSB. They are the only company that has already brought a product to market that uses this new battery technology: The eCitaro G is a bus that drives on solid-state batteries. The eCitaro can drive up to 220 km on one charge under perfect conditions. Its batteries can withstand a temperature range from -30 to +60°C. These batteries have been developed by Bolloré Blue Solutions, a French company founded in 1998. They have a volumetric energy density of 380 Wh/l at the cell level, not yet the jump in energy density that is promised with the implementation of this new battery technology.

Aside from these German OEMs, Renault, together with Nissan and Mitsubishi has also invested $1B in different startups, among them Ionic Materials, a spinoff from the University of Colorado Boulder. Gilles Normand plans on having market-ready batteries by 2025. Since 2018 there have been no updates on the state of the development of these cells, maybe the recent publications by the German OEMs will prompt Renault to show some of the results of their research efforts in collaboration with Ionic Materials.

Who Else is Looking Into Solid-State Batteries?

There are more European companies that are not automakers and should be mentioned when talking about the state of solid-state battery manufacturing for the European market. One British company that also made an interesting announcement this week makes a good example: Oxfordshire-based Oxis Energy just announced they “will deploy Solid-State Lithium-Sulfur (Li-S) cell and battery systems to its clients and partners worldwide by Autumn 2021 for use in trials”. However, the listed applications do not include passenger cars but are intended for the “Aviation, Marine, Defence, and Heavy Electric Vehicles sectors”.

Still, the ramp-up of the production of a market-ready solid-state battery is a great sign of feasibility for the industry. One interesting application was also announced this week. Bye Aerospace has unveiled a passenger plane with a range of 1000 km. The company has not yet announced when the eFlyer 800 can be purchased.

A Big Chance for the European Battery Landscape

As can be seen in Japan and in the example of BMW, public funding can be very beneficial in driving progress. So the IPCEI 1 funding and possibly other initiatives are indeed very necessary to make the EU a hub for SSB technology.

All these examples of OEMs and other companies show that there is a chance for Europe to become a leader in solid-state battery development and production. Many experts say that US car maker Tesla is years ahead in the development of their lithium-ion cells. But SSB may offer European OEMs a chance to pass them by. Since many companies have a similar time frame, the years leading up to 2025 will show when or whether solid-state batteries will replace the current battery technology and which countries will take the lead.

Connect with me on Twitter (@BatteryBayEU) to keep up to date on the battery ecosystem. I’m looking forward to learning about your involvement or interest in the industry and chatting about everything batteries.

Also, please feel free to use the comment section below to leave any feedback or suggestions!

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