Shared from the 8/17/2020 Houston Chronicle eEdition


New battery tech will pull EVs even with regular cars

Alex Kraus / Bloomberg

A Taycan, manufactured by Porsche SE, charges Wednesday in Germany.

Watch out gasoline, a new generation of batteries is in the rearview mirror and catching up fast.

On the inside track is Toyota with a new sulfide-based chemistry. In the middle of the pack are Volkswagen, with a 5 percent stake in Quantumscape; BMW’s partnership with Solid Power; and Hyundai’s work with Ionic Materials. Oil giant BP recently bought an advanced battery company too.

Coming up on the outside is HydroQuebec, which licensed a lithium-based innovation from University of Texas professor John Goodenough, whose work I wrote about in 2017. He won last year’s Nobel Prize for inventing the ubiquitous lithium-ion battery we all use today.

These new batteries have one thing in common: a solid-state electrolyte. They will change the world forever when they begin entering the commercial market in 2023.

To understand the coming revolution, a quick refresher on batteries. They have three basic components: an anode, from which ions flow through an electrolyte to a cathode. With very few exceptions, the electrolyte has usually been a flammable, corrosive liquid or paste and the ingredient that most limits a batteries’ effectiveness and lifespan.

Liquid electrolytes are why batteries cannot charge faster, hold more energy, or last longer. Researchers have spent decades trying to develop a solid material that allows ions to flow fast enough to be a useful electrolyte.

Goodenough made a breakthrough working with a professor of engineering at the University of Porto in Portugal, Maria Helena Braga. She developed a glass filled with alkali metals that worked in the lab as an electrolyte.

Their prototype holds three times more energy, charges in minutes rather than hours, works in hot and cold weather, can survive more than 1,500 charging cycles and poses no fire hazard. With a solid-state battery, charging my Chevy Bolt up to a 230-mile range at home would no longer take six hours. Instead, I could conceivably add 750 miles in 30 minutes at a commercial charging station.

Braga and Goodenough are not alone. A variety of other researchers and companies, large and small, have announced they, too, have a solid electrolyte. There are nine different materials under development, according to a new report by IDTechEx, an industry research and consulting firm.

For example, Toyota and the Tokyo Institute of Technology report their sulfide-based material that has double the ionic conductivity of a liquid electrolyte, making their solid-state electrolyte appealing for high power applications, IDTechEx said.

The race is on to see who can commercialize their invention first, and which will work best under real-world conditions. Most companies are focused on supplying electric vehicle manufacturers, and a Taiwanese company says it will have a solid-state battery in cars by 2022, IDTechEx added.

Solid-state batteries could be available in Europe, Japan and the United States by 2025. Not surprisingly, that’s the same year the world’s biggest automakers plan to launch an array of new electric models.

By 2030, more than 245 million electric vehicles will be on the world’s roads, the International Energy Agency predicts, and IDTechEx estimates the solid-state battery market will total more than $6 billion a year.

Aaron Doster / Tribune News Service

UT professor John Goodenough and an engineering professor in Portugal have developed a breakthrough battery that holds three times more energy and charges in minutes.

Solid-state batteries also help explain investor enthusiasm around Tesla and new electric vehicle companies, including Rivian, Fisker, Karma Automotive and Nikola Motors. Most of these companies are building factories from scratch and will begin reaching their full potential around 2025.

Old-school automakers are excited about new battery technologies. General Motors has recently unveiled the Cadillac Lyriq and has plans for 23 more all-electric models. Since solid-state batteries can adopt almost any form factor, they are easy to drop into existing designs.

Lastly, consumers and investors should not overlook the considerable strides in charging technology, where the car cycles the flow of electricity for faster charging without overheating. Other companies are promoting wireless charging stations, light poll plug-ins, and longitudinal metal strips embedded in highways that can charge a car as it drives over them.

Frequent readers will know I like my 2017 Chevy Bolt. For 51 weeks out of the year, it meets the needs of my wife and me, and for the other week, when we go on a road trip , we rent a car. I don’t imagine a world without internal combustion engines, but there will be far fewer.

Most importantly, I enjoy paying the equivalent of $1.06 a gallon for gasoline, and I charge at night when the wind provides most of the state’s electricity. As will most consumers once these batteries hit the market.

Many technologies will revolutionize personal transportation in the decade ahead, electrification will likely be the biggest, and Texans should prepare.

Tomlinson writes commentary about business, economics and policy.

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