Today’s electric cars run on lithium-ion batteries, the same sort that power our phones, computers, and many other consumer electronic devices. These batteries are far superior to the batteries of the past, offering long-life, high-energy density, and recyclable components.
Lithium-ion batteries do have their drawbacks. They may be lighter than older battery technologies, but because the electrolytes in the batteries are liquid, they are still fairly heavy. The huge number of them in an electric car adds up to a considerable amount of weight. In addition, the flammability of the electrolytes can lead to explosions or fires if the batteries are damaged or exposed to extreme temperatures.
Solid-state batteries are an alternative technology that contain a solid electrolyte. Such batteries are lighter, have higher energy density, offer more range, and recharge much more quickly than lithium-ion batteries. They have been used for years in some small devices like cardiac pacemakers, RFIDs, and some wearable devices.
For all these benefits, scaling up production to the level needed to be used in cars is an expensive and challenging endeavor. The hope is that with sufficient effort, the result will be smaller, lighter battery packs for cars that can be charged in minutes and provide extended range.
Nissan Motor Company has recently announced that it is investing $17.6 billion over the next five years towards developing solid-state batteries for cars. No doubt other companies will also be working on the technology.
Lithium-ion batteries have proven to be quite practical for powering vehicles. But if solid-state batteries can meet the challenges of scaled up production, the lithium-ion era might end up being a relatively brief one.
Photo, posted November 13, 2018, courtesy of FirstEnergy Corp via Flickr.