Solid-state batteries can use a wide variety of chemicals, but a leading candidate for commercialization uses lithium metal. Quantumscape, for example, is targeting that technology and raised hundreds of millions in funding before going public in 2020. The company has a deal with Volkswagen that could put its batteries in cars by 2025.
But completely reinventing batteries has proven difficult, and lithium metal batteries have seen concerns about degradation over time, as well as manufacturing challenges. Quantum landscape announced at the end of December it had provided samples to auto partners for testing, an important milestone on the road to building solid-state batteries into cars. Other solid-state battery players, such as Solid Power, are also building and testing their batteries. But while they may also reach major milestones this year, their batteries won’t make it to vehicles on the road in 2023.
Solid-state batteries aren’t the only new technology to watch out for. Sodium-ion batteries are also very different from today’s common lithium-ion chemistry. These batteries have a design similar to that of lithium-ion batteries, including a liquid electrolyte, but instead of relying on lithium, they use sodium as the main chemical ingredient. Chinese battery giant CATL reportedly plans to begin mass-producing it in 2023.
Sodium ion batteries may not improve performance, but they can cut costs because they rely on cheaper, more widely available materials than lithium ion chemistry. But it’s not clear whether these batteries will be able to meet EV range and charge time needs. Therefore, several companies are going after the technology, such as US-based Natroninitially focus on less demanding applications, such as stationary storage or micromobility devices such as e-bikes and scooters.
Today, the market for batteries aimed at stationary grid storage is small – about one-tenth of the EV battery market, according to Yayoi Sekine, head of energy storage at energy research firm BloombergNEF. But the demand for electricity storage is growing as more renewables are installed, as major renewables like wind and solar are variable and batteries can help store energy for when it’s needed.
Lithium-ion batteries are not ideal for stationary storage, even though they are commonly used for it today. As batteries for EVs get smaller, lighter and faster, the primary purpose of stationary storage is to cut costs. Size and weight don’t matter much for net storage, meaning different chemistries are likely to win.
A rising star in stationary storage is iron, and two players could see progress over the next year. Form energy develops an iron-air battery that uses a water-based electrolyte and actually stores energy through reversible rusting. Company recently announced a $760 million manufacturing facility in Weirton, West Virginia, to begin construction in 2023. another company, ESS, builds another type of iron battery that uses similar chemistry; it has begun production at its Wilsonville, Oregon headquarters.
Shifts within the norm
Lithium-ion batteries are getting better and cheaper, but researchers are continuing to tweak the technology to achieve better performance and lower costs.