Building on all of our other recent articles discussing snowballing interest in solid-state electric vehicle batteries, the largest spark plug manufacturer in the world, Japan’s NGK Spark Plug Co, has now come out and revealed that it’s shifting its focus towards solid-state battery tech.
In a rather blunt admission, NGK Spark Plug’s senior general manager of engineering and R&D, Takio Kojima, stated (in an interview with Reuters): “We realized that it was inevitable that the industry would at some point shift from the internal combustion engine to battery EVs, and that ultimately this could make our spark plug and oxygen sensor businesses obsolete.”
What’s really interesting here is that execs at NGK Spark Plug saw the writing on the wall all the way back in 2010, apparently … following the launch of the Nissan LEAF and right as the Tesla Roadster was making waves.
“Our expertise is in advanced ceramics, and so we have decided to pursue all solid-state batteries,” Kojima continued.
The matter-of-fact quality of that statement (that battery-powered electric vehicles are an inevitability) is also particularly interesting when one considers that it comes from the mouth of a major figure at one of Japan’s top auto parts suppliers.
I guess that Kojima didn’t get the memo — hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are the future. (I really have to wonder at this point what sorts of politics have been going on behind the scenes in Japan to lead to such strong support for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles despite the obvious trends regarding battery electric vehicles. Though, it’s notable that Nissan execs never voiced much support for the tech, as those at Toyota, Honda, and others have.)
Anyway, back to the news at hand. NGK Spark Plug has leveraged its expertise in ceramics to branch out into products far beyond basic spark plugs for some time now, with semiconductors and sensors of various types being the most notable.
So, the refocusing on solid-state batteries isn’t that out of character for the firm (which has been around since 1936).
The Reuters coverage provides more: “Toyota is developing batteries with sulfide-based solid electrolytes, which offer high conductivity and are relatively flexible but can release toxic hydrogen sulfide when exposed to moisture. NGK is betting on a different technology with an oxide-based chemistry using ceramics which is highly stable at extreme temperatures, but has less conductivity. In addition, brittle ceramics can be difficult to process.”
“Japan’s TDK Corp has developed small, ceramic, all solid-state batteries for use mainly in wearable devices like personal fitness monitors, while Murata Manufacturing Co is developing similar products. But NGK Spark Plug has bigger plans, developing a larger format necessary for cars.”
“It’s relatively easy to work in smaller sizes, but when you get to larger sizes, it gets very difficult to assemble each layer because it’s difficult to make each layer the same thickness,” commented Hideaki Hikosaka, one of those working on NGK Spark Plug’s solid-state battery R&D team.
With that in mind, the firm has spent the last half decade working on a solid, oxide-based electrolyte that utilizes other material to make it “resemble” sulfide-based electrolytes. Doing so reportedly allows for easier processing of the electrolyte into larger, thinner layers — which are then compressed, and used to stack with cathodes and anodes.
“It’s because of the addition of that material that we’re able to process layers using compression (rather than sintering) to make a bigger, oxide-based battery cell. At the same time, it doesn’t release any gases like sulfides do,” Hikosaka stated.
The battery pouch which NGK Spark Plug (which may need to change its name at some point) has created is 10 cm by 10 cm in size. No, we didn’t get any other specs (energy density, power density, etc.), nor do we know what is used to make the battery’s oxide compound. Though, the company is aiming for commercial competitiveness “in the 2020s.”
If NGK Spark Plug ends up achieving its goal, then that means that the firm will make it to market about the same time as Toyota says it will … possibly (or not) with a cheaper or superior product.
The promise of solid-state batteries, for those unfamiliar with the tech, is that they can weigh less, possess a longer working lifespan, be safer, and be charged faster.
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