For a while now, automakers have looked to solid-state batteries as the next-generation of batteries to enable better electric vehicles.
There are many different timelines that could bring the technology to market and now Hyundai is getting on board by investing in a solid-state battery startup claiming a ‘breakthrough’ for commercialization.
Solid-state batteries are thought to be a lot safer than common li-ion cells and could have potential for greater energy density. However, we have yet to see a company capable of producing them at a large-scale and an attractive price point competitive with li-ion.
Hyundai, which has been ambivalent about electric vehicles, has been betting on the technology for a while. It reportedly started pilot production of next-gen solid-state batteries for electric vehicles last year.
The Korean automaker, through its subsidiary Hyundai Cradle, has now confirmed an investment in Ionic Materials, a US-based materials technology company developing a solid polymer electrolyte that they claim will enable low-cost and high-performing solid-state batteries.
John Suh, Vice-President of Hyundai CRADLE, commented on the announcement:
Ionic Materials’ breakthrough technology could significantly improve battery technology today. We are always looking for ways to ensure our cars provide the highest level of clean and efficient solutions. Our investment in Ionic Materials will keep us at the forefront of battery development, allowing us to build better eco-friendly vehicles.
Ionic Materials makes some major claims about its new solid polymer electrolyte.
Here are the three main ones from their website:
- Inherent Safety: Eliminates safety issues with liquid electrolytes
- Higher Performance: Enables higher energy anodes and cathodes
- Lower Cost: Reduces battery cost through less expensive chemistries and manufacturing
Mike Zimmerman, founder and CEO of Ionic Materials, commented on Hyundai’s investment:
The investment by Hyundai represents another key company milestone and demonstrates our rapid momentum as we develop polymer-based materials for solid-state batteries. With the ongoing help of our investment partners, we have expanded our facilities and are adding to our team to meet the ever-growing demand for this technology.
The problem with solid-state has been commercialization. No one has managed to bring the tech to production at an attractive price.
Ionic Materials claims that its material will work with upcoming battery chemistries that will be cost competitive with current li-ion batteries, which currently dominate the electric vehicle industry.
Our polymer is compatible with a number of next generation chemistries that have the potential to significantly reduce battery costs per kWh (either because they use lower cost materials, because they enable much higher energy densities, or both). In addition, use of Ionic’s polymer as a battery electrolyte potentially enables the production of batteries using extrusion and other plastic processing techniques that are simpler and lower cost than the methods used to manufacture liquid electrolyte batteries.
Yet, they haven’t released a concrete timeline to bring the tech to production. Other companies are talking about commercialization anytime between now and 2025.
As usual, we need to be careful with “battery breakthrough” claims. It’s relatively easy to make a battery capable of fast-charging or having a high energy density, or a battery that is inexpensive or durable, but it’s extremely hard to make a battery good at all those things, which is the holy grail of battery technology.
There are often claims of “battery breakthroughs”, but it has rarely materialized into anything on the market.
In this case, I like Ionic Materials’ focus on commercialization, but I have no way of confirming their claims so take all of this with a grain of salt.