Next-generation technology ‘unsafe’, says world’s largest battery maker - SUV VEHICLE

Next-generation technology ‘unsafe’, says world’s largest battery maker

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The so-called ‘Battery King’ says the new solid-state tech spearheaded by Toyota is unreliable and unsafe.

The founder of the world’s largest supplier of lithium-ion batteries, CATL, has labelled solid-state batteries as impractical and unsafe – alleging ‘showstopper’ claims ignore the real-world limits of the technology.

Dr Robin Zeng – who is also the CEO of CATL – told the Financial Times the much-vaunted solid-state battery tech was unreliable, lacked durability and posed unsolved safety issues in its current guise.

Chinese-based CATL (Contemporary Amperex Technology Company Limited) is the world’s largest producer of lithium-ion batteries, with a 36.8 per cent share of the global supply in 2023, ahead of BYD’s 15.8 per cent.  

Lithium-ion is the most common battery type in new electric vehicles in 2024 – used widely by car makers including Tesla, Hyundai, BYD, MG, Porsche and Ford.

Solid-state batteries are broadly seen as a ‘silver bullet’ to ending driving range anxiety for electric vehicle use, with Toyota claiming they will enable up to 1200 kilometres of driving range after a mere 10-minute charge of a completely flat battery.

They’re also said to be cheaper than lithium-ion batteries, too, improving affordability to remove another key barrier-to-purchase for potential electric car buyers.

Yet the promises provide false hope after years of research and development failed to deliver a viable solid-state battery, according to the CATL chief.

“We fully support solid-state, but I have been investing in this for 10 years,” Zeng – nicknamed the ‘Battery King’ – told the Financial Times.

“I watch the development people working on solid-state almost every month, so I know all the progress, and somehow we still have these showstoppers,” he added.

Toyota – much criticised for its slow introduction of battery-electric vehicles compared to rivals – is regarded as a leader in the development of solid-state battery tech, which it has pledged to introduce to showrooms sometime in 2027 or 2028.

The Japanese car maker only released its first electric vehicle – the Toyota BZ4X SUV, which uses lithium-ion batteries made by CATL – to Australian showrooms in February 2024.

Toyota entered a partnership with CATL in 2019 for its first lithium-ion batteries, but in 2023 confirmed a tie-up with Japanese oil and petroleum company, Idemitsu Kosan, to develop solid-state technology.

The announcement with the resource company included claims it had developed a reliable way of producing lithium-sulfide to enable solid-state technology to become suitable for mass-market vehicles. 

Yet CATL’s Zeng said the viability of solid-state batteries is not achievable unless a new type of chemistry – where pure lithium metal is used for the anode electrode – is used, but even then this poses issues.

The need to put solid-state batteries under extreme pressure is a drawback, says Zeng, who also points to repeat expansion of solid-state batteries during recharging.

“It cannot last many [charging] cycles, maybe 10 cycles,” said Zeng. “So how can you make it commercially viable?”

Lithium from a solid-state battery would also react with oxygen if it broke apart in an accident, posing a significant safety risk to occupants, emergency services and other road users.

“So people push on this, but I tell them CATL already spent 10 years [researching to make solid-state commercially viable]”.

Zeng points to sodium-ion battery technology CATL has been working on since 2021 as the next advancement in electric car development.

Sodium-ion batteries use ‘semi-solid’ materials to double the potential range of lithium-ion battery packs – akin to the claims of solid-state technology – yet without the volatility and cost.

The post Next-generation technology ‘unsafe’, says world’s largest battery maker appeared first on Drive.

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