BATTERY MATERIALS CONF: EVs will progress to solid-state batteries in 10-15 years, pending manufacturing developments

Electric vehicles will shift to using solid-state batteries using lithium metal in the long term, but requisite developments in the manufacturing process mean batteries with liquid electrodes will remain in use until at least the late 2020s, according to Emily Hersch, managing partner of DCDB Group.

“The practical reality of how [solid-state technology] goes from laboratory to supply isn’t so much to do with the raw materials, in as much as the ‘how’,” Hersch told delegates at Fastmarkets’ Battery Materials conference in Shanghai (April 10-12).

The long-term outlook for solid-state adoption means the benefit of such technology does not fundamentally change the trajectories for demand growth for other battery raw materials for the time being.

Solid-state batteries bring a number of benefits over packs using liquid electrolytes, making development of the technology to a mass scale appealing. In particular, they eliminate the need for cobalt, the price of which has fluctuated over the past two years.

Fastmarkets’ benchmark standard-grade cobalt price stands at $15.30-16.75 per lb, in-warehouse as of Wednesday April 10. It reached a near 10-year high of $43.70-44.45 per lb last April and sat a more than two-year low of $13.30-14.20 per lb in late March this year.

High prices and volatility, alongside limited opportunities to hedge cobalt exposure, have increased the appeal of lower-cobalt battery chemistries or cobalt-free battery technology, especially for automakers seeking to lock in raw material costs.

In addition, on paper, solid-state batteries can cost less, have higher energy density (meaning they can travel longer distances between charge), and are safer.

“All major battery and auto manufacturers have at least a foot in the door when it comes to solid-state batteries,” delegates heard.

But the new manufacturing techniques and processes required for solid-state batteries limit the practicality to produce on a mass scale and for mass application for the time being.

“You’re going to lose out when it comes to cost and temperature range. [The limitations] can take that battery outside the performance range that makes it practical for the application you’re looking at,” Hersch said.

According to Hersch, solid-state batteries will first be seen in cost-insensitive niche applications, such as in drones and in the military. That will be followed by their use in consumer electronics before being used in EVs in the late 2020s or early 2030s.

“The scale is the major challenge [but] the future is lithium metal because lithium metal is energy density,” Hersch said.