Solid-state batteries can use a wide range of chemistries, but a leading candidate for commercialization uses lithium metal. Quantumscape, for one, is focused on that technology and raised hundreds of millions in funding before going public in 2020. The company has a deal with Volkswagen that could put its batteries in cars by 2025.
But completely reinventing batteries has proved difficult, and lithium-metal batteries have seen concerns about degradation over time, as well as manufacturing challenges. Quantumscape announced in late December it had delivered samples to automotive partners for testing, a significant milestone on the road to getting solid-state batteries into cars. Other solid-state-battery players, like Solid Power, are also working to build and test their batteries. But while they could reach major milestones this year as well, their batteries won’t make it into vehicles on the road in 2023.
Solid-state batteries aren’t the only new technology to watch out for. Sodium-ion batteries also swerve sharply from lithium-ion chemistries common today. These batteries have a design similar to that of lithium-ion batteries, including a liquid electrolyte, but instead of relying on lithium, they use sodium as the main chemical ingredient. Chinese battery giant CATL reportedly plans to begin mass-producing them in 2023.
Sodium-ion batteries may not improve performance, but they could cut costs because they rely on cheaper, more widely available materials than lithium-ion chemistries do. But it’s not clear whether these batteries will be able to meet needs for EV range and charging time, which is why several companies going after the technology, like US-based Natron, are targeting less demanding applications to start, like stationary storage or micromobility devices such as e-bikes and scooters.
Today, the market for batteries aimed at stationary grid storage is small—about one-tenth the size of the market for EV batteries, according to Yayoi Sekine, head of energy storage at energy research firm BloombergNEF. But demand for electricity storage is growing as more renewable power is installed, since major renewable power sources like wind and solar are variable, and batteries can help store energy for when it’s needed.
Lithium-ion batteries aren’t ideal for stationary storage, even though they’re commonly used for it today. While batteries for EVs are getting smaller, lighter, and faster, the primary goal for stationary storage is to cut costs. Size and weight don’t matter as much for grid storage, which means different chemistries will likely win out.
One rising star in stationary storage is iron, and two players could see progress in the coming year. Form Energy is developing an iron-air battery that uses a water-based electrolyte and basically stores energy using reversible rusting. The company recently announced a $760 million manufacturing facility in Weirton, West Virginia, scheduled to begin construction in 2023. Another company, ESS, is building a different type of iron battery that employs similar chemistry; it has begun manufacturing at its headquarters in Wilsonville, Oregon.
Shifts within the standard
Lithium-ion batteries keep getting better and cheaper, but researchers are tweaking the technology further to eke out greater performance and lower costs.