Car manufacturers continue to invest in next-generation electric vehicle battery technologies that they hope will lower costs and improve performance, even though commercialization is likely years away.
In most electric vehicle batteries, a liquid electrolyte carries lithium ions from a graphite anode to a cathode made of metal oxides. Menahem Anderman, president of Total Battery Consulting, says that though the technology has improved tremendously over the past decade and works well, it has limitations. Battery start-ups hope tweaking battery chemistry will yield better results.
Volkswagen has finalized a deal with the Massachusetts start-up 24M Technologies to develop semi-solid-state batteries that combine an electrolyte with active materials to make a clay-like slurry. The process uses the same materials as lithium-ion batteries, but 24M claims it reduces costs.
Meanwhile, Stellantis and Mercedes-Benz have led a $200 million round of fundraising in Factorial Energy, another Massachusetts-based start-up. Factorial has been working with the carmakers since November on its batteries, which have a solid electrolyte, and has a similar deal with Kia and Hyundai.
Honda announced that it is investing in and working with SES to develop batteries with liquid electrolyte and anodes made of lithium metal rather than graphite. SES says the approach yields batteries that have a higher energy density than current batteries and are easier to manufacture than solid-state batteries. SES’s merger with a special purpose acquisition company last year also attracted investment from General Motors, Hyundai, and Kia. The flurry of activity this year follows investments by Ford Motor and BMW last May in the battery start-up Solid Power.
Anderman says that the solid-state and lithium-metal approaches may offer enhancements over current technologies but that payoff is years away—if it comes at all. “I think the probability of success of a lot of these investments is pretty low,” he says. “The market potential is so big that [carmakers] feel they have to do something.”