Chinese pure-electric automaker Enovate recently revealed renderings of its next model, the ME Sport (ME-S) sedan. Along with the images, the carmaker divulged that the ME-S would be powered by a solid-state battery. If this is true, it could be a game changer … for a whole host of reasons.
For the uninitiated, a solid-state battery is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a battery cell without any liquid or gel electrolytes, like those in today’s lithium-ion battery cells that power most of the electric vehicles on the road today. As a result of its solid state, its both denser and more stable. Imagine the difference between an alkaline AA disposable battery and a rechargeable and longer lasting lithium-ion AA battery. That’s the sort of technological leap solid-state represents over lithium-ion
So, implementing the battery technology into EVs seems like a no-brainer. Except, no one has really cracked the secret recipe of an affordable solid-state battery. If Enovate has however, we’re looking at the start of not just a new wave of EVs, but perhaps an EV revolution.
With current, established solid-state battery tech, making one even the size of a standard AA battery could cost thousands of dollars. Understandably, scaling that to the size of a battery large enough to power an electric car is wildly cost prohibitive. Solid-state battery tech is one of those technologies, like hydrogen fuel-cells a few years ago, that will eventually get cracked. Even seven years ago, hydrogen fuel-cells faced what seemed like insurmountable technological hurdles. Now, you can buy a fuel-cell-powered car from your Toyota dealer.
Like hydrogen, solid-state battery tech is worth the time and investment. If scaled to the size of a current lithium-ion ‘wet’ battery, an EV with an onboard solid-state battery could go around 1,000 miles per charge. What’s more, since solid-state batteries are denser and more stable, they could be recharged in a matter of minutes. Rumor has it that BMW is testing a solid-state battery that can be completely recharged in four minutes — the duration of an average refill of a traditional gasoline tank.
The benefits don’t end there. Solid-state batteries are also less prone to fires in the case of high-impact damage, like that from an accident. And with the right kind of cell isolation system built in, solid-state batteries could be more easily repaired than today’s lithium-ion battery packs. This would further enhance their viability as a next-generation energy storage system.
Even if automakers can bring down the cost of solid-state batteries, they’ll likely never be cheap — even with the benefit of an economy of scale. This poses a conundrum for carmakers: Is solid-state worth the research, development, and production cost?
This question has to be asked because, as consulting firm Alix Partners recently concluded, carmakers are going to spend $255 billion in EV R&D by 2023 with little to show in terms of sales and profits. In fact, the EV market is going to be so oversaturated in four years, with an anticipated 207 new EV models set for showrooms by then, that EV values will plummet — even in showrooms.
Given that grim outlook, is solid-state even worth the investment? In the long term, yes. That’s a good thing, because not only will their perfection take a while, it’ll be many years (at least 11 years) before EVs make up a large enough piece of the new-car market pie that they will be profitable.