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The Race for The Holy Grail of EV Batteries Heats Up

Tsvetana Paraskova

Mar 14, 2024

Solid-state batteries enable faster charging and can withstand wider temperature ranges than lithium-ion batteries.
No one has claimed yet to have found the secret to scaling up solid-state battery manufacturing.
Volkswagen: the next step on the way to series production is now to perfect and scale the manufacturing processes.

Researchers, top carmakers, and EV battery manufacturers have been looking to unlock the next game-changing technology to make safer and more durable batteries that can be recharged in minutes—solid-state batteries.  

Many have claimed technological breakthroughs in recent months, and some of the world’s biggest legacy auto manufacturers are already drafting plans to begin mass production of solid-state batteries by the end of the decade.

The (re)search for the “holy grail” of batteries, as scientists have dubbed solid batteries, has seen many breakthrough announcements in recent months. Still, the next phase of implementing the technology looks more elusive, at least for now. No one has claimed yet to have found the secret to scaling up solid state battery manufacturing to put such batteries in electric vehicles and prove that the lab experiments of the super powerful, superfast chargeable, and super safe battery could work outside labs.

Solid Battery Breakthroughs

Solid state batteries, as the name suggests, use solid electrolyte, unlike the dominant lithium-ion batteries, which have a liquid electrolyte with lithium salts. The solid battery offers much higher energy density—they are packing more energy per volume or weight.

Solid-state batteries also enable faster charging and can withstand wider temperature ranges than lithium-ion batteries. And last but not least, solid batteries can be made of cheaper materials.

However, these batteries face their own set of hurdles to mass production. In the design stage, one of the biggest challenges has been how to prevent the formation of dendrites, needle-like crystals or “metal whiskers” that develop on the anode of the battery during charging. These dendrites can create a short circuit and reduce the safety and lifespan of a solid-state battery.Related: Two Countries That Could Break Putin's Gas Grip On Europe

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) believe they may have overcome the dendrites problem in solid batteries.

Earlier this year, the scientists said they had developed a new lithium metal battery that can be charged and discharged at least 6,000 times — more than any other pouch battery cell — and can be recharged in a matter of minutes.

In the new research, published in Nature Materials in January, the team led by Xin Li, Associate Professor of Materials Science at SEAS and senior author of the paper, were able to stop dendrites from forming. They have used micron-sized silicon particles in the anode to constrict the reaction and facilitate homogeneous plating of a thick layer of lithium metal.

In the novel design, when lithium ions move during charging, the reaction is constricted at the shallow surface, and the ions attach to the surface of the silicon particle but don’t penetrate further, the team said.

“In our design, lithium metal gets wrapped around the silicon particle, like a hard chocolate shell around a hazelnut core in a chocolate truffle,” Li says.

“Lithium metal anode batteries are considered the holy grail of batteries because they have ten times the capacity of commercial graphite anodes and could drastically increase the driving distance of electric vehicles,” the scientist noted.

The researchers built a postage stamp-sized pouch cell version of the battery, which was found to retain 80% of its capacity after 6,000 cycles, outperforming other pouch cell batteries on the market today, they say.

In separate research, scientists at the University of Liverpool in the UK have synthesized a solid material that rapidly conducts lithium ions and demonstrated it in a battery cell. According to the researchers who published their paper in the journal Science, the new material, which consists of non-toxic earth-abundant elements, has high enough lithium-ion conductivity to replace the liquid electrolytes in current lithium-ion battery technology, improving safety and energy capacity.

Race to Launch Mass Production

While scientists are working on the “holy grail” design, battery manufacturers and automakers, both in China and the West, are advancing their own solid battery projects.

In China, a government-led initiative, China All-Solid-State Battery Collaborative Innovation Platform (CASIP), has grouped together EV battery manufacturer CATL, electric vehicle maker BYD, and academia to work on revolutionizing the EV market with solid batteries, business publication Nikkei Asia reported last month.  

In Japan, Toyota said last year that recent technological advancements by Toyota have overcome the challenge of shorter battery life of solid batteries, and “the company has switched its focus to putting solid-state batteries into mass production.” Toyota’s goal is to have a solid-state battery ready for commercial use by 2027-2028.

“We will be rolling out our electric vehicles with solid-state batteries in a couple of years from now,” Vikram Gulati, the India head of Toyota Kirloskar Motor, said earlier this year, as quoted by Reuters.

PowerCo, the battery company of the Volkswagen Group, said earlier this year that the solid-state cell of U.S. company QuantumScape has significantly exceeded the requirements in the A-sample test and successfully completed more than 1,000 charging cycles.

“The final result of this development could be a battery cell that enables long ranges, can be charged super-quickly and practically does not age,” PowerCo chief executive Frank Blome said.

The next step on the way to series production is now to perfect and scale the manufacturing processes, Volkswagen noted.  

By Tsvetana Paraskova for

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