- 1 What are solid-state batteries?
- 2 Challenges facing solid-state battery commercialization
- 3 Key players in solid-state battery development
- 4 MANUFACTURING CHALLENGES HOLDING BACK SUCCESS
- 5 EXPERT VIEWS ON OVERCOMING MANUFACTURING HURDLES
- 6 WHEN COULD SOLID-STATE BATTERIES BECOME COMMERCIALLY VIABLE?
- 7 Conclusion
Solid-state batteries are widely considered one of the most promising next-generation battery technologies. Unlike conventional lithium-ion batteries, which use liquid electrolytes, solid-state batteries utilize solid electrolytes. This gives solid-state batteries significant advantages including increased energy density, improved safety, and longer cycle life. While several companies have built solid-state battery prototypes, manufacturing challenges remain the key obstacle preventing commercialization. Experts emphasize that success for solid-state batteries depends on solving manufacturability issues.
This article provides an overview of solid-state batteries, the challenges facing their mass production, and expert perspectives on overcoming manufacturing hurdles. The introduction covers the definition and benefits of the technology. Following sections examine the specific manufacturing difficulties, the major players working on solid-state batteries, and opinions from experts on how to enable large-scale manufacturing. The article concludes with predictions on when commercially viable solid-state batteries could become a reality.
What are solid-state batteries?
Solid-state batteries replace the liquid or polymer electrolyte used in lithium-ion batteries with a solid electrolyte. The solid electrolyte is usually a ceramic or glass-like material that allows lithium ions to pass between the anode and cathode. This enables the key electrochemical reactions required for a battery to function.
The solid electrolyte provides two major advantages over liquid electrolytes. First, the solid electrolyte enables the use of lithium metal anodes rather than graphite anodes. Lithium metal provides much higher energy density. Second, the solid electrolyte is not flammable like liquid electrolytes. This significantly improves safety.
Additionally, solid-state batteries can achieve longer cycle life and faster charging than lithium-ion. However, the technology has tradeoffs including lower conductivity compared to liquid electrolytes. Overall, solid-state batteries promise significant improvements once manufacturability challenges are solved.
Challenges facing solid-state battery commercialization
While solid-state batteries offer notable advantages, several key challenges have prevented large-scale manufacturing so far:
Stability of solid electrolytes – The interfaces between the solid electrolyte and electrode materials can become unstable over repeated charging cycles. This leads to reduced performance over time. More research is needed to discover solid electrolyte materials that maintain stability.
Interface issues – Achieving optimal contact between the solid electrolyte, anode, and cathode is difficult compared to liquid electrolytes. Poor interface bonding causes impedance and limits ion transport.
Manufacturing challenges – Solid-state battery production involves very different processes than conventional lithium-ion manufacturing. Entirely new equipment and facilities will need to be developed and built to enable mass production.
Until these issues are resolved, solid-state batteries will remain confined to lab prototypes and small batch production. Reliable mass manufacturing is necessary to fully unlock the promise of solid-state batteries.
Key players in solid-state battery development
Many major automotive and battery companies are heavily investing in solid-state battery research and development:
Toyota – The automaker is considered a leader in solid-state batteries. Toyota unveiled a prototype solid-state battery electric vehicle in 2020 and plans to commercialize the technology in the early 2020s. Their batteries use sulfide superionic conductors.
Samsung – Samsung SDI, the battery subsidiary of Samsung, has been developing oxide-based solid-state batteries. The company has partnered with BMW and aims to produce batteries for electric vehicles.
QuantumScape – This well-funded startup has financial backing from Volkswagen. Their solid-state batteries promise 80% longer range and faster charging than lithium-ion. They hope to enable mass production by 2024.
Solid Power – Solid Power focuses on sulfide ceramic electrolytes and has partnered with BMW and Ford. The company is working on pilot-scale manufacturing and expects batteries by 2026.
MANUFACTURING CHALLENGES HOLDING BACK SUCCESS
While labs have produced solid-state battery prototypes with excellent performance, experts emphasize that moving from small batches to mass production will pose significant challenges:
Difficulty scaling up – Processes that work to produce a few battery cells in a lab often run into problems when scaled up to make thousands of cells required for vehicles. New equipment and techniques will need to be developed.
Maintaining performance and cycle life – The instability of solid electrolytes and interface issues become more pronounced during high volume manufacturing. Maintaining lab-level performance has proven difficult.
Achieving high yields – Defects and impaired performance are common when first manufacturing an innovative technology like solid-state batteries. Considerable refinement of processes will be required to achieve yields above 90%.
Current lithium-ion battery factories cannot simply be converted to produce solid-state batteries. Entirely new facilities with specially designed tools will need to be constructed to accommodate the unique manufacturing needs.
EXPERT VIEWS ON OVERCOMING MANUFACTURING HURDLES
Experts across the industry agree that innovating on manufacturing processes and equipment will be critical to enabling mass production of solid-state batteries. Some perspectives on achieving this:
Simplify production processes – Companies need to find ways to streamline manufacturing steps and reduce complexity. This will make high volume production more feasible.
Develop new manufacturing equipment – Existing battery production lines cannot handle solid electrolyte powders and other unique aspects of solid-state cells. Companies will need to design custom tools.
Further research on solid electrolytes – More stable electrolyte materials need to be developed to maintain performance during manufacturing. This likely requires advances in inorganic chemistry.
Partnerships with engineering firms – Battery companies may benefit from collaborating with specialized engineering partners to design production lines.
WHEN COULD SOLID-STATE BATTERIES BECOME COMMERCIALLY VIABLE?
Most experts predict it will take at least 5-10 years before solid-state batteries become cost competitive and available in mass market electric vehicles. Some of the predictions on timelines include:
Most optimistic predictions – Some companies like Toyota suggest commercialization could happen in the early 2020s. However, most industry observers consider this aggressive.
More conservative estimates – Many experts do not expect mass production until the late 2020s at the earliest. They point to the major manufacturing innovations still required.
Overall, while exciting progress has been made, solving manufacturability issues for solid-state batteries remains a substantial challenge. Realistically, it will still take many years of development before the technology reaches full commercial viability.
In summary, solid-state batteries are a highly promising next-gen battery technology offering advantages in energy density, safety, cost, and performance compared to lithium-ion batteries. While prototypes have demonstrated impressive capabilities, mass producing solid-state batteries at scale remains the primary obstacle. Manufacturing processes will need extensive innovation to enable commercially viable solid-state batteries. Major automotive and battery companies are investing heavily, but realistic timelines likely put widespread production 5-10 years away. Solving the manufacturability challenges will be key to unlocking the full potential of solid-state batteries.