As automakers race to develop battery-powered electric vehicles, they are constantly vying for an edge over their rivals.
After Toyota announced on Tuesday that it will produce “solid-state” batteries as early as 2027, it has shrunk the size of its power units for electric vehicles to make them safer and charge faster. and the ambition to halve the cost.
But despite the optimism of the Japanese auto group, this Holy Grail battery technology has long been unrealized by the industry.
Smaller, lighter, safer, faster
Electric vehicles on the market today, from the most expensive Tesla to the cheapest Fiat, use batteries containing liquid lithium-ion electrolytes.
The electrolyte allows current to flow between the two electrodes of the battery (anode and cathode) to generate power.
However, EVs powered by liquid batteries have some well-proven drawbacks, including being very heavy and taking much longer to charge than it takes to refuel a petrol car. increase. It can also catch fire, especially if the battery overheats.
So-called all-solid-state battery technology using solid electrolytes has the potential to solve these concerns.
Batteries can hold much more power, so they can be smaller without sacrificing range. It is safer because it can be charged quickly without getting hot.
Toyota said it expects EVs with solid-state batteries to have a range of 1,200km (more than double that of current EVs) and a charging time of 10 minutes or less.
where the anode and cathode meet
Despite years of global investment, the technology is still in its early stages.
Therefore, it is difficult to set an accurate timeline.
Toyota says it believes the technology can be commercialized in vehicles by 2027. This is just four years away, but replaces the previous target of 2025, which the automaker originally set in 2017 and reconfirmed in 2021. Use batteries in hybrid models.
“Top management . [by 2027]Keiji Kaita, Toyota’s top battery expert and director of its carbon-neutral research and development center, said Tuesday. “But I’m presenting them with the evidence while we’re working on it.”
But despite his confidence, battery researchers have seen the schedule pushed back again and again.
“For the last decade, many developers have said, ‘Five years from now,'” says Victoria Fugil, a battery research analyst at consultancy Low Motion.
Experts also expect semi-solid batteries to reach commercial use sooner than solid-state batteries.
A major challenge for solid-state battery developers, he added, is making good contact between the electrodes, where the lithium ions are stored, and the electrolyte, which facilitates their movement between the electrodes.
Shirley Meng, a battery professor at the University of Chicago, told the Financial Times conference that all-solid-state batteries also need to operate at a constant pressure “to perform at an optimum level,” which remains a technology challenge for manufacturers. said it was a serious issue. “We need to solve this problem before the technology really takes off,” she added.
Seeking technological superiority
Toyota has long resisted adopting all-electric vehicles like its biggest rivals, Volkswagen and Ford.
They argue that it is too expensive for developing markets, difficult to recharge in countries without grids, and that hybrids could reduce overall emissions more quickly using the world’s limited lithium resources.
But solid-state technology doesn’t seem to address all of these concerns, as it’s much more expensive to manufacture than traditional battery systems and still requires power to charge.
As competition in the development of all-solid-state batteries intensifies, if Toyota can bring it to market first, it will certainly gain an edge in a field where model development is lagging behind rivals.
The Japanese group claims 20 years of experience with hybrid batteries will help develop better EVs. But the company’s large-scale EV rollout isn’t expected to begin until the mid-2010s.
Despite the fanfare around the announcement, Toyota executives themselves insist they are not betting solely on solid-state batteries and expect further technological advances to occur with liquid lithium-ion batteries.
“We don’t really think solid-state batteries are the ultimate solution,” said Hiroki Nakajima, Toyota’s chief technology officer.
Competition for all-solid-state batteries intensifies
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many automakers are investing in the technology to steal the progress of electric vehicles. BMW will start testing solid-state batteries this year and tentatively expects development vehicles to be ready by 2025, but realistically doesn’t expect mainstream manufacturing until the end of 2025. .
Nissan is committed to producing vehicles using the technology in 2028, a year after Toyota’s latest target, and has already unveiled a prototype battery facility in Japan. The company expects to bring battery costs down to $75 per kilowatt-hour in 2028 and then to $65/kWh after that, which it said will make its EVs cost the same as gasoline vehicles.
Toyota’s Kaida added that the company aims to solve the problem of high costs by simplifying the number of steps required to manufacture battery materials.
Startups such as Bill Gates and Volkswagen-backed QuantumScape are also developing solid-state battery technology.
In 2015, vacuum cleaner maker Dyson acquired solid-state startup Sakti3, believing it would help it enter the automotive industry. One of the reasons for canceling the vehicle production plan in 2019 was technological lag.
Still, the company continues to develop battery systems and is building a factory in Singapore that will produce some form of non-liquid battery from 2025, suggesting it has already made significant progress.
Since a new president took office in April, Toyota has been under pressure from shareholders to explain how it intends to stay ahead of the global race for battery-powered vehicles, and has tried to revamp its image as an EV underdeveloped country. .
In June, the Japanese automaker took reporters on a rare tour of its technical center near Mt. also showed. Electric vehicles can be produced faster.
“We are not very good at promoting ourselves and are overly cautious, so people only know we work. [on a certain technology] When the product is completed,” Kaita said, revealing that the company had already achieved an early breakthrough in solid-state battery durability issues three years ago.
Executives customarily gave few details about the company’s “technical breakthrough,” Nakajima said only that the company had discovered a promising material for solid-state batteries.
This has left some shareholders questioning Toyota’s progress, saying that the lack of specific “breakthrough progress” details meant they could not be confident they would be able to meet their targets by 2027. He questioned whether the announcement was simply intended to allay investors’ concerns about Toyota as a whole. EV approach.
Still, Toyota has decided on that date. “2027 will be a challenge for us,” Nakajima said. [for the date]”
Additional reports from London by Eri Sugiura and Harry Dempsey