The Lucid Air offers the longest range of any battery-electric vehicle (BEV) on the market today. It can go 516 miles between charges according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates.
New Toyotas may go even further thanks to solid-state battery technology, the company revealed this week, saying that their future vehicles may be able to go 745 miles between charging stops and charge to full capacity in as little as 10 minutes.
Toyota Motor Corporation, like many other automakers, has tasked its engineers with looking further into the future than just the next electric vehicle (EV) in the company’s lineup. They’re looking at future EV battery technologies, from cell composition to range and recharging capabilities.
BEVs on the market today have batteries with either lithium-ion or nickel-metal hydride composition. They are sourced from various companies, worldwide.
These batteries are heavy and large, traditionally taking up most of the space between the wheels of the BEV they power. Their size and weight cause BEVs to weigh more than their internal combustion engine-powered counterparts. Heavy vehicles tend to damage roads at a higher rate than those lighter, and a battery’s power has to overcome the weight of the vehicle to propel the model.
Solid-state batteries are the next frontier. They offer great promise, but they’re not yet ready for prime time.
“Solid-state battery cell technology has been a Holy Grail for some time now. Thousands of engineers and billions of dollars of venture capital have gone into making it sufficiently practical, scalable, and affordable to be used in production vehicles,” John Voelcker, an automotive reporter specializing in EVs for Car and Driver, Green Car Reports, and other outlets told Newsweek.
“But battery engineers will tell you an advance that seems promising in lab conditions often proves not to pan out in real-world conditions.”
Traditional lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride batteries contain liquid or polymer gel electrolytes. Different companies use different chemistries to achieve the optimal results for their brand, and automakers purchase batteries from the suppliers that can deliver the right combination for what they’re looking for.
Solid-state batteries have solid electrodes and solid electrolytes. These solids are designed to be more energy dense resulting in the option to have a smaller battery powering the car, and, in turn BEVs will carry less battery weight. These factors will allow for more BEV range.
Solid-state technology isn’t new, but its application in automobiles, at mass scale, is. In the 1990s, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory created a new class of solid-state electrolytes that made the auto industry stand up and take notice.
Ford Motor Company, BMW Group, Toyota Motor Corporation, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen Group, Nissan Motor Company and others have invested in the development of solid-state battery technology. Many have partnered with energy innovation companies to work toward their development goals.
Development has been pricey, with costs associated with the development of solid-state technology stretching into the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars per automaker.
Before the batteries come to market, there are a number of issues automakers and battery makers have to solve, including the installation of charging infrastructure to support high-voltage fast charging ability.
“One of the intriguing elements of Toyota’s claim is the ability to charge in 10 minutes,” Stephanie Brinley, associate director of research and analysis at S&P Global told Newsweek.
“In some ways, the ability to charge more quickly and the robust infrastructure to support that ability is more critical than achieving 700-plus miles range. The charge time and range claims complement one another, but infrastructure and charge time are elements that consumers question today. If the questions of ‘Can I safely and securely charge when I need to and how long will it take?’ can be answered in a way consumers trust, the range question becomes a bit less critical.”
Many automakers have self-imposed deadlines of the years 2030 or 2035 to become all-electric automakers. Others are touting their ability to be climate neutral, a phrase used to describe a sustainability focus throughout the development, manufacturing and usable lifecycle of a vehicle, and beyond, by 2050 or sooner.
Solid-state batteries play a role in these efforts. But, that doesn’t mean the cars of today will be left behind by the batteries of tomorrow. The same with modern EV vehicle architecture and the charging infrastructure.
“New charging hardwire will likely be needed to take full advantage of the increased charging speeds of solid state, but future vehicles should be backwards compatible with current hardware, especially with the adoption of North American Charging Standard (formerly known as the Tesla charging connector) by most automakers,” Chad Kirchner, vice president of content at EVPulse told Newsweek.
“There might be a time in the future where the upgrade is required, but it won’t be overnight. This is especially true when new vehicle ownership is a decade or more at a time.”
Today, most owners keep their cars for a little over 12 years according to S&P Global. A decade ago, the average was 9.7 years.
“While it’s reasonable to expect solid-state cells to appear in limited use by the end of this decade, it’s worth noting their checkered trajectory to date within one of the largest, most respected, and most profitable car companies on the planet,” Voelcker said.
“Toyota said it 2017 it could have solid-state cells in cars by 2020. That schedule has now slipped by half a decade or more, with continuing pledges of great performance and enormous promise … but no actual cells have appeared thus far. Expect to see them sometime … but when is the question. I wouldn’t put money on any specific year before, say, 2030.”
Despite no finish line in site, Brinley believes that Toyota’s messaging on the topic is important.
“A broader transition from an internal combustion engine-dominated market to an EV-dominated market will not be determined by any one development or technological breakthrough alone. Longer range and faster charging times are important, but the infrastructure and consumer cost are also critical. The importance of Toyota’s announcement is that it is another step along the path—and every step counts,” Brinley said.