Good question! For many years, lithium-ion batteries have been the essential energy storage solution for electric vehicles. And, for so many years, researchers have been trying to come up with something better, lighter, cheaper, and more efficient – and it looks like solid-state lithium metal EV batteries are in the running.
The bottleneck of electric vehicle batteries
Lithium-ion batteries can do amazing things these days, but they don’t come cheap. Electric vehicle batteries are the main reason that electric cars are more expensive than their gasoline-powered counterparts.
When you factor in multi-year ownership costs, EVs can actually be equal or better because an electric-powered car is cheaper and easier to maintain than a conventional automobile.
Nonetheless, that initial sticker shock is a major obstacle to sales of electric vehicles. Any automaker that offers a cheaper alternative to lithium-ion technology has a good chance of winning the hearts and minds of drivers.
The lithium metal solution in the solid state
A dramatic improvement in energy density combined with lower costs is the energy storage unicorn sought after by solid state lithium metal researchers.
In 2017, the US Department of Energy reviewed the state of the field of electric vehicle energy storage, and lithium metal had a long way to go in terms of R&D. The cost has been estimated to be around $ 320 per kilowatt hour.
However, the Department of Energy predicted that the technology could win the race to cut costs, with the potential to drop to a range of $ 70 to $ 120 per kilowatt hour.
At the time, conventional lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries weighed in at $ 235, with the potential to drop to $ 100-160 (for the record, the next generation Li-ion was expected to fall in the $ 90-125 range. , from a 2017 level of $ 256).
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a study on energy storage recently published by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The research team looked at the energy density angle and determined (as others have done) that the solution is to create a very powerful and very fine electrolyte. Their version consists of a polymer (aka plastic) and a ceramic-based composite, the idea being to get the best of both worlds – low cost and high conductivity – without sacrificing mechanical strength.
“Solid polymer electrolytes are flexible and inexpensive, but have low conductivity, while ceramic-based electrolytes offer better conductivity but are too brittle to be processed,” says the lab.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. The two materials are not mixed, crushed or sprayed together. Instead, the lab created a three-dimensional ceramic infrastructure and managed to fill in all the small gaps with plastic.
If you want to know how, check out the study, “Three-dimensional interconnected polymer / ceramic composite as a thin film solid electrolyte,»Published by Energy Scientific and Technical Information Office.
The electric vehicle battery of the future is now
Speaking of the Department of Energy, in 2014, the agency’s advanced research funding office ARPA-E provided $ 4.7 million in funding to scientists at the University’s Energy Research Institute. from Maryland to find out how to solve some problems with the garnet-ceramic solid. battery condition.
Obviously, the research program has made solid progress, so to speak. Along the way, he received additional funding from the Department of Energy as well as NASA and Lockheed Martin.
ARPA-E summarized the state of play in 2018 and noted that the research had been contracted out to a company called Ion Storage Systems, working with ceramic maker TransTech and a coating specialist called PneumatiCoat.
“Such a design could be used in factories manufacturing large format batteries for electric vehicles. Inexpensive and secure batteries using this technology could also be used for grid energy storage, consumer electronics and drones. In the long term, the success of this technology will allow the United States to manufacture a new battery platform with higher capacity, lower cost and greater safety, ”enthuses ARPA-E.
Say it! When I last heard of – January 16, 2020, to be exact – Ion Storage Systems announced that it had brought in the former executive director of Apple battery operations Ricky Hanna, to lead UMD research in the market.
ISS also dropped a reminder that it had recently secured $ 8 million in seed capital, thanks to an investment round led by San Francisco-based venture capital firm Alsop Louie Partners, which lives according to the motto “big companies bring something to the world”.
Well, it’s not their only motto, but it’s the most relevant to the electric vehicle battery of the future.
Forward and upward for energy storage
None of this is good news for oil players. Despite constant encouragement from the investigational drug Taker-in-Chief * for anything fossil, the Department of Energy is eagerly pursuing new energy storage technology that will take oil out of the mobility market.
In fact, earlier this year the agency launched a major new energy storage initiative. The goal is to accelerate the exit of fossil gas from the electricity market and put the last nail in the coffin of coal, in addition to ushering in the next generation of electric vehicle batteries.
Go figure it out.
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* History in development.
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