Why Toyota Needed To Partner With Idemitsu To Build Its 745-mile Solid-state Battery


It turns out that designing fundamentally new batteries is really hard. Toyota has been promising a solid-state “wonder battery” for over a decade, and its progress has been slow enough to cause everyone besides the most optimistic people to lose faith that Toyota will ever produce a solid-state battery.




Toyota is currently one of the most profitable and respected automakers in the world. However, the rise of EVs means that its future success depends on collaboration with other companies. This has led to Toyota’s partnership with Japanese petroleum company Idemitsu (or, more fully, Idemitsu Kosan). The two companies are joint-developing solid-state batteries, and neither one could do it without the other.

In order to give you the most up-to-date and accurate information possible, the data used to compile this article was sourced from various manufacturer websites and other authoritative sources, including Edmunds, Car and Driver, and Top Gear.

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Idemitsu Is Putting The “Sulfide” In “Lithium Sulfide”


  • Toyota’s solid-state battery sulfides, which are a byproduct of petroleum refining.
  • Idemitsu will provide the sulfides used to make the batteries. The sulfides don’t go directly into the batteries, but are some of the starting materials used to manufacture the electrolytes.
  • Toyota is making impressive and almost extravagant claims about what its solid-state batteries will be capable of.
  • Solid-state batteries have gotten the attention of most of the EV industry for multiple reasons.

Idemitsu’s biggest contribution to the solid-state project may be delivered by the literal truckload. The two companies have zeroed in on lithium sulfides to use as the solid-state electrolyte. (As a quick reminder, a battery’s electrolyte is the part of it that actually stores the energy.) These start with the sulfides that are a byproduct of petroleum refining. As a petroleum company, Idemitsu has petroleum byproducts in ample supply.


It should be noted that Toyota’s home country of Japan is an archipelago of relatively small islands. This means that, unlike China or the United States, Japan does not have vast plains and mountain ranges full of underground resources waiting to be mined. As a result, obtaining raw materials requires more negotiation and corporate cooperation.

This partnership only makes sense. Historically, Toyota has partnered up with third parties to help drive down production costs. It’s also a clear indication that Toyota is lagging behind on battery development. Partnering up with a company like Idemitsu, which already has a head start in the development of solid sulfide electrolytes, is a logical step in the right direction for Toyota.

– William Clavey, TopSpeed EV Journalist and Expert

Sulfides And Solid-state Batteries: A Short Overview

Solid State Batteries
BMW


Toyota is not literally putting petroleum byproducts into solid-state batteries. Rather, petroleum-derived sulfides are the beginning of the long chemical processes that ultimately lead to lithium sulfide, the compound that will be used as a solid-state electrolyte. Given the global dependence on oil for everything from children’s toys to tractor fuel, if it were possible to make solid-state batteries out of petroleum byproducts, lithium-ion batteries would be obsolete.

Toyota Is Making Ambitious Promises About Its Solid-State Batteries

Toyota claims its battery would be good for 745 miles on a single charge, which surpasses the range of most ICE cars with a full tank of gasoline. It is not alone in these extravagant claims. Nearly every company in the auto industry has dropped some astonishing hypothetical range specs into its solid-state press releases.


The purported appeal of solid-state batteries (or SSBs) almost sounds foolishly optimistic. In theory, they can dramatically reduce an EV battery’s weight and battery size, charge in minutes instead of hours, aren’t nearly as bothered by extreme temperatures, and retain their capacity through far more charge-and-drain cycles than lithium-ion batteries do.

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Toyota’s Long And Unfruitful History With Solid-State Batteries

The battery pack of the Toyota bZ4X and targeted specifications of Toyota's future battery
Toyota

  • Toyota has been working on solid-state batteries for a long time.
  • The company claimed it would have a solid-state battery at the Tokyo Olympics, but was absent without comment.
  • In the upcoming Paris Olympics, Toyota is providing a fleet of hydrogen and hybrid vehicles, with no mention of the words “solid-state.”
  • Toyota has also pushed back its solid-state production date from 2027 to 2030.


Toyota has a long history with solid-state batteries, which makes it all the more frustrating that it hasn’t actually managed to put one in a car. Or, if Toyota has managed to do so, the company was very secretive about it. While it’s always possible that its research facilities are abuzz with scientific breakthroughs that are not yet ready for the public to see, the fact remains that Toyota’s battery claims have lost their ability to impress.

Toyota’s Quietly Conspicuous Absence From The Tokyo Olympics

rear shot silver black ot Toyota bZ4X
Toyota

Toyota’s biggest solid-state embarrassment came in 2021. The company announced that it would present a working prototype of its (very) long-awaited solid-state battery at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It would have been the perfect tie-in, showing the latest in technology from one of Japan’s foremost companies at one of the world’s biggest international events.


Of course, like nearly every large event scheduled for 2020, the Olympics were postponed by an entire year. Despite getting a 12-month extension, Toyota did not present any batteries of any kind when the games finally happened. The company didn’t even issue a perfunctory press release trying to excuse itself for its failure to appear.

In the upcoming Paris Olympics, Toyota will apparently eschew any plans to promote solid-state batteries. Instead, it will provide a fleet of hydrogen cars (in addition to hybrids) to be used during the games.

Toyota’s Solid-State Batteries Are Delayed Until 2030

solid-state battery car blue illistration
JLStock | Shutterstock


Those who still believe in Toyota’s solid-state promises have just endured another recent yet devastating blow. In a relatively quiet announcement, Toyota pushed back its solid-state release date by another three years. The company had previously claimed it would have SSBs in production by 2027 or 2028. Now its expected deadline is 2030. Granted, scientific progress cannot be put on a rigid timetable. However, it is nearly impossible to suppress suspicions that as 2030 draws nearer, the projected production date will get nudged back a few more years.

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The Competition Is Tightening

2023 Nio ET7 sedan
Nio

  • Other auto industry players are working on solid-state batteries.
  • The biggest companies in the Chinese EV industry have recently formed a solid-state consortium called CASIP.
  • Volkswagen, Honda, and others are also working on solid-state batteries. Nio actually road-tested a semi-solid state battery.


Although solid-state batteries are nothing new, up until now they have been very small. One finds solid-state batteries in things like hearing aids, pacemakers, and what the technology industry has dubbed “wearables.” No one has been able to make a usable car-sized solid-state battery, though it’s neither for lack of effort nor shortage of funding.

CASIP: The Chinese Consortium To Get Solid-State Batteries Into EVs

NIO ES6 solid-state battery
NIO


The latest threat to Toyota’s solid-state ambitions comes from one of its nearest mainland neighbors. China has just formed a consortium of some of its biggest battery and EV manufacturers, along with a few government agencies. The most recognizable names on its member roster are EV manufacturers Nio and BYD (or more specifically, BYD’s battery division FinDreams). The battery manufacturer CATL (which has been Tesla’s supplier) is also a member. The All-Solid-State Battery Collaborative Innovation Platform (CASIP) puts its objectives in the first three words of its name.

It is worth noting that CASIP member Nio has come closer than anyone else to solid-state success. The company installed a semi-solid state battery in one of its ET7 sedans and drove it 648 miles on a single charge. The CEO personally drove the car and live-streamed the whole journey.

Of course, semi-solid-state batteries are not the same as solid-state batteries. (As a quick refresher, semi-SSBs are batteries that have solid electrolytes suspended in the more conventional liquid ones.) Nevertheless, it is the first time that an EV battery with solid electrolytes actually went onto public roads.


Volkswagen Has Tested Its Battery Design

2023 Volkswagen ID.4
Volkswagen

Next to Nio, Volkswagen has come the closest to actually making a solid-state battery happen. The company recently announced that it had drained and recharged its own solid-state battery 1,000 times. At the end of this, the battery still had 95% of its charging capacity. Volkswagen co-developed this battery with California-based QuantumScape.

Of course, mounting a battery on a stand and putting it through several drain-and-recharge cycles is not the same as subjecting it to the undignified conditions of a car’s undercarriage as it rattles on poorly maintained pavement over the course of several years’ worth of rotten weather. And even after Volkswagen and QuantumScape perfect their design, they will still need to figure out a mass-production process. (Scaling up battery production is not as straightforward as doubling a cookie recipe.)


Honda Is Already Working Out Mass-Production Methods For SSBs

solid-state battery car blue illistration
JLStock | Shutterstock

Honda, Toyota’s biggest competitor in the field of indestructible Japanese cars, has gotten close to the production phase of solid-state batteries. The company announced it had been working on the manufacturing process for solid-state EV batteries. Honda’s process involves assembling the batteries by stamping, which increases the density of the electrolyte (and therefore, how much energy a battery can hold). Stamping the batteries also helps the solid electrolytes make better contact with the electrodes.

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Toyota And Idemitsu Aren’t The Only Unlikely Companies To Form A Partnership Over EVs

Nissan Solid State battery creation
Nissan


The rise of EVs has united some unlikely pairs into automotive partnerships. Ford and BMW are joint-investing in a solid-state battery company. (These days, it seems that anyone can move to California, start a solid-state battery company, and wait for some auto execs to show up with money.)

But, Ford and BMW aren’t the most unlikely of bedfellows to share a sheaf of contracts. Honda and General Motors have launched a joint venture to produce hydrogen fuel cells. Doing business under the name of Fuel Cell System Manufacturing LLC, the two companies already have an active factory just outside of Detroit.

Idemitsu Is Bringing Raw Materials And Scientific Knowledge To This Partnership

Toyota isn’t just getting several freight loads of sulfides out of its partnership with Idemitsu. It is also getting the full benefit of Idemitsu’s chemists and other scientists. Perhaps more than any other industry, petroleum companies are skilled at transforming molecules from one kind to another. Since no one has managed to dig battery electrolytes out of the ground (solid or otherwise) out of the ground, this knowledge will prove crucial to Toyota’s success.


The Ongoing Allure Of Solid-State Batteries

2023 Nio ET7 rear view while driving
Nio

If the industrial hype is to be believed, SSBs will magically transform EVs. They can (supposedly) charge in a handful of minutes instead of several hours. They are much smaller than lithium-ion batteries, which frees up space for cargo or extra legroom. And, of course, they weigh less than lithium-ion batteries. EV batteries tend to weigh more than equivalent-use internal-combustion powertrains. (Of course, few people particularly care about the curb weight of their cars.)

If solid-state batteries almost sound too good to be true, that may prove correct. However, if solid-state batteries ultimately go into the long history of technologies that never quite worked, it won’t be for lack of trying.




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