Ford and BMW are looking for solid-state batteries for future EVs with greater range, lower costs and more flexible designs, both injecting new investments into the battery specialist Solid Power. The deal – which provides for automakers to participate in a new $ 130 million investment round – will give automakers an early taste of next-generation batteries going into pilot production in 2022.
Solid-state batteries are seen by many – not least by automakers – as the next big leap forward in electric vehicle technology. Unlike lithium-ion batteries, which are the most common battery design for today’s EVs, solid-state batteries eliminate the liquid electrolyte component.
This can make them cheaper and lighter, as well as providing greater energy density. It can also make them safer than lithium-ion packs. However, this assumes that they can be successfully manufactured on a scale.
That’s what Solid Power has been working on. It uses sulfide-based solid-state battery cells, but built using the existing lithium-ion battery manufacturing infrastructure. Last year, she demonstrated that she could build these cells on a production line, providing samples to BMW and Ford. Currently it is producing 20 Ah cells, but starting next year it promises 100 Ah versions in full scale.
Ford already knew Solid Power, having invested in the company for the first time in 2019; Today’s announcement leaves the American carmaker as the owner of equity equal to BMW. Solid Power, for its part, may not be a household name, but it does have some high-profile supporters. This includes Samsung, A123 and previous investments from Volta, which joins today’s new round.
Although both automakers now bet on Solid Power, that does not mean that they will use exactly the same technology. Ford, for example, has a separate joint development agreement with the battery company, to develop and test its specific cell design and “help streamline Ford’s integration into future vehicles.” BMW has also expanded its joint development agreement with Solid Power.
Several approaches to solid-state battery technology are underway. Solid Power’s rivals are using oxide-based technologies, but Ford and BMW rely on the compatibility of Solid Power processes with lithium-ion production techniques to streamline mass manufacturing.
“By simplifying the design of solid-state batteries versus lithium-ion batteries, we will be able to increase vehicle range, improve interior space and charge volume, deliver lower costs and better value to customers and integrate seamlessly This type of solid-state battery cell technology is more efficient in existing lithium-ion cell production processes, ”said Ted Miller, manager of Ford’s Electrification and Power Supply Research Subsystems, about the deal.
“Solid Power’s solid state platform technology allows the production of unique cell designs that must meet the performance requirements of each automotive partner,” says BMW. “Solid Power’s truly solid cell designs achieve higher energy densities, are safer and should cost less than today’s best performing lithium-ion battery cells.”
By the end of the decade, BMW suggests, the energy density of battery sales must have increased “by at least a two-digit percentage range” and will have a fully solid-state battery compatible with mass-produced automobiles. The first BMW demonstration vehicle using the technology will be ready “well before 2025”, says the German company.