Many aspects of an electric vehicle are the same as a petrol one: seats are seats, tires are tires, the steering wheel still turns right and left. The biggest difference, and the one that will influence or prevent mass adoption of EVs, is the battery.
For this reason, some of the most exciting research in the modern automotive landscape is focused on battery technology – and “solid state” batteries are one area being explored. This alternative to the lithium-ion batteries used today promises to improve vehicle range, reduce charge times and eliminate the risk of battery fires.
You can’t drive solid-state battery-based electric vehicles out of the parking lot just yet, but they’re in the works. Honda recently confirmed that it is working on it in its Tokyo lab and plans to launch a vehicle with a solid-state battery in the second half of 2028 or 2029. Hyundai, BMW, Ford, GM, Volkswagen and others are conducting similar investigations, reports JD Power. Toyota is a leader with over 1,300 patents related to solid-state batteries and plans to launch a hybrid with one by 2025.
In the future, trains, planes, and trucks could also use solid-state batteries, setting the stage for much more electrified transportation than we can imagine today. Here’s what you need to know about this potentially game-changing technology.
What is a solid state battery?
Solid state batteries work just like any other battery. They absorb energy, store it, and deliver the energy to devices ranging from walkmen to watches to car engines. The difference lies in the materials inside.
Lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles today have a liquid Electrolyte solution between their cathodes and anodes (see middle gap in picture above). Alternatively, use solid-state batteries Celebration electrolytes.
The increased density means solid-state batteries can last between two and 10 times the capacity of a lithium-ion battery, reports AutoWeek.
Why don’t electric vehicles already use solid state batteries?
Solid-state batteries already exist, only in much smaller devices like smartwatches, pacemakers, and RFID tags. The primary obstacle to their use in electric vehicles is that they are expensive and difficult to manufacture on a larger scale, explains Vox. Since battery-powered vehicles are already more expensive than gasoline-powered ones, consumers have little appetite for even more expensive vehicles.
Longevity is another issue, but Honda says it has a solution. The solid electrolytes can degrade over time, so Honda plans to protect them by wrapping them in a new polymer fabric, Ars Technica reports.
The batteries must also be extensively tested for their durability on the road and their lifespan in everyday driving. Remember, we’re talking about taking something by the wrist and using it to move a car or truck en masse for the first time.
Do Solid State Batteries Increase Range?
With a solid-state battery, electric vehicles should be able to travel as far as a gas-powered car before refueling. Take for example a 15 gallon gas tank that goes 30 miles per gallon. This car can drive 450 miles before a full tank of fuel.
Most EVs today have ranges of 200 to 300 miles, although the 2024 GMC Sierra Denali pickup will have a range of 400 miles, and the super-luxury Lucid already on the road today has a range of 520 miles.
Multiply those ranges by about 50% (or up to 80%, CarBuzz reports) and solid-state batteries are ready to play along on road trips. An electric vehicle with a range of 300 miles now has 450 miles. Also, solid-state batteries charge faster than lithium-ion batteries with less degradation of the battery itself.
Fires Put Out: Solid State Improves EV Safety
With chilling reports of battery fires following flooding from Hurricane Ian, electric vehicles have a bad reputation for rolling matches. But in reality, that honor should go to the lithium-ion battery. Swap it out for a solid-state equivalent and the EV has a very low risk of fire.
The liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries are flammable, but since solid-state batteries do not contain this liquid, they do not face the same fire hazard.
Lithium-ion battery fires are rare, and automakers provide enclosures and protections to avoid them, but when they do happen, they are powerful and difficult to put out, sometimes consuming thousands of gallons of water. Building electric vehicles that are non-flammable is a huge win for drivers, citizens, and firefighters.
How do you recycle solid state batteries?
Both lithium-ion and solid-state batteries can be recycled at one of the many new facilities dedicated to rejuvenating scrap material. For example, Redwood Materials, started by former Tesla co-founder JB Straubel, is a large-scale battery recycling project in Nevada. Redwood has $792 million in funding from investors including Ford.
“Solid-state batteries are able to take advantage of the growing infrastructure for recycling lithium-ion batteries,” Will McKenna, head of marketing for Solid Power, which is backed by BMW and VW, tells CarBuzz.
“As [lithium ion] Batteries Solid Power batteries typically contain nickel, manganese, lithium and small amounts of cobalt. The same methods of recycling lithium-ion batteries by extracting these metals also work for solid-state batteries. Therefore, we do not anticipate that additional infrastructure investment processes will be required.”
Nightmare scenarios of stacks of dead EV batteries spilling into the ground can also be dismissed as no liquid could leak inside. Not to mention that solid-state batteries potentially have a 39% smaller carbon footprint than lithium-ion batteries, Electrek reports.
Silicon vs Solid State Batteries
The race for an energy-dense electric vehicle battery involves multiple technologies, and solid-state batteries are just one solution. Silicon batteries are another leading contender, and Tesla, Porsche, and others have already invested there. Porsche’s 2024 electric vehicles are said to use silicon batteries made from raw materials developed by Washington-based Group14.
“We increase battery energy density by up to 50% or more, enabling battery manufacturers to reduce charging times to the point where charging your car is closer to filling up your tank,” says Group14’s Grant Ray.
Group14 has developed a new manufacturing method for silicon ions, an abundant but unstable material that battery makers and automakers can use in batteries to improve their performance. They won’t be the last, as Group14 received a $100 million grant from the Biden administration in October to continue development.
Silicon and solid-state batteries are not mutually exclusive, and one cannot prevail over the other. Rather, they can work together as one of many technologies needed to bring cheaper and better electric vehicles to market.
“With automakers pursuing both silicon batteries and solid-state batteries, the reality is that these two technologies are not mutually exclusive,” says Ray. “Our partners are using our silicon battery technology within solid-state batteries to push the boundaries of energy density and enable a vehicle to go the distance consumers expect.”
For more information on EV batteries, visit EV Batteries 101: Degradation, Lifespan, Warranties and MoreEV Batteries 101: Degradation, Lifespan, Warranties and More.