Solid state batteries (SSBs) have been touted as the future of energy storage–especially in the EV sector–for what feels like time eternal. Switching from a liquid electrolyte to a solid should allow for faster charging, longer ranges, better safety, and better battery life.
A new study from Transport and Environment (T&E), a European NGO that advocates for cleaner transport, suggests that solid state batteries may have environmental upside.
Let’s address an important caveat here: No mass market consumer EVs are currently powered by solid state batteries. Zero. This is an emerging and complex technology that has yet to prove itself in the real world. Having said that, reasons to continue working on these batteries of the future keep adding up.
The new analysis from T&E claims that switching from current lithium ion batteries to solid state technology could cut the carbon footprint of EVs by 24-39%. Their life-cycle analysis shows that the lion’s share of carbon savings comes from the fact that solid state technology uses less materials. Less material means fewer emissions from the manufacturing process.
The study also outlined areas in the supply chain that would create the most emissions. For SSBs, lithium mining could be a “hotspot’ due to the solid state chemistry requiring an average of 35% more lithium than current nickel-manganese-cobalt-lithium (NMC-811), lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) or lithium-iron-manganese-phosphate (LFMP) constructions.
To mitigate these impacts, the authors emphasize the importance of moving towards more sustainable lithium mining practices. In particular, the report shows that switching to brine and geothermal lithium sources could reduce the global warming potential by about 45% compared to traditional mining methods that extract the metal from rocks.
While widespread commercialization is likely still a few years away, the race to market for SSB tech has never been hotter. Among Californian EV startups, Vinfast says it’s targeting 2024, while their competitor Mullen Automotive has said SSBs may show up in their EVs by 2025. . San Jose-based QuantumScape, one of the largest names in the field, expects to deliver full scale prototypes to its partner Volkswagen on roughly the same timeline. Toyota is working in-house on a competitor, and Colorado-based Solid Power is still in the mix with backing from BMW and Ford.
How it all shakes out is anyone’s guess. From an investor’s perspective, the correct guess could potentially be worth billions. It could be even more valuable to the health of the planet.