Lithium-ion batteries power almost every new phone, laptop and electric vehicle. But unlike processors or solar panels, which have improved exponentially, lithium-ion batteries have inched along with only incremental gains.For the last decade, developers of solid state battery systems have promised products that are vastly safer, lighter and more powerful. Those promises largely evaporated into the ether — leaving behind a vapor stream of disappointing products, failed startups and retreating release dates.
A new wave of companies and technologies are finally maturing and attracting the funding necessary to feed batteries’ biggest market: transportation. Electric vehicles account for about 60% of all lithium-ion batteries made today, and IDTechEx predicts that solid state batteries will represent a $6 billion industry by 2030. Electric vehicles have never been cooler, faster or cleaner, yet they still account for only around one in 25 cars sold around the world (and fewer still in the United States). A global survey of 10,000 drivers in 2020 by Castrol delivered the same perennial complaints that EVs are too expensive, too slow to charge and have too short a range. Castrol identified three tipping points that EVs would need to drive a decisive shift away from their internal combustion rivals: a range of at least 300 miles, charging in just half an hour and costing no more than $36,000. Theoretically, solid state batteries (SSB) could deliver all three. There are many different kinds of SSB but they all lack a liquid electrolyte for moving electrons (electricity) between the battery’s positive (cathode) and negative (anode) electrodes. The liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries limit the materials the electrodes can be made from, and the shape and size of the battery. Because liquid electrolytes are usually flammable, lithium-ion batteries are also prone to runaway heating and even explosion. SSBs are much less flammable and can use metal electrodes or complex internal designs to store more energy and move it faster — giving higher power and faster charging.
<div class="article-block block--pullout block--right"> <blockquote> For the last decade, developers of solid state battery systems have promised products that are vastly safer, lighter and more powerful. </blockquote> </div>