The solid state battery is like the Loch Ness monster — often talked about, seldom seen. Compared to the traditional lithium ion battery with its liquid electrolyte, solid state batteries offer the promise of greater energy density, lower cost, and no risk of fire if the battery overheats or becomes damaged. Beginning in 2012, Volkswagen forged a relationship with Quantumscape, a secretive Stanford University spinoff initially funded by ARPA-E and headed by Stanford graduate Jagdeep Singh.
In January of 2015, CleanTechnica contributor Tina Casey did an in-depth story about QuantumScape and Volkswagen. At the time, she reports the company’s website contained nothing but this cryptic message: “QuantumScape Corporation manufactures lithium batteries. The Company focuses on fundamental disruption in the energy storage sector. QuantumScape conducts its business in the United States.”
Today, even that brief statement has disappeared from the home page of the company’s website. Tina’s article makes interesting reading if you are curious about QuantumScape and want to know more about its solid state battery technology that may or may not may involve perovskites.
Last week, Volkswagen deepened its ties to QuantumScape with an additional $100 million investment in the company. VW already has one of its own people, Axel Heinrich, on the company’s board of directors. Heinrich is the head of research for Volkswagen Group. Why is Volkswagen so interested in the work QuantumScape is doing?
“A solid-state battery would increase the range of the E-Golf to approximately 750 kilometers compared with the present 300 kilometers. This battery technology has further advantages over the present lithium-ion technology: higher energy density, enhanced safety, better fast charging capability and — above all — they take up significantly less space,” the company says according to a report by Green Tech Media.
In a press release announcing its latest investment, Jagdeep Singh says, “Volkswagen is the world’s largest automotive manufacturer and leads the industry in its commitment to electrification of its fleet. We are thrilled to be chosen by Volkswagen to power this transition. We think the higher range, faster charge times, and inherent safety of QuantumScape’s solid-state technology will be a key enabler for the next generation of electrified powertrains.”
So when will we be able to buy an electric car with these spiffy new solid state batteries? That is an excellent question. Volkswagen says it hopes the batteries being developed by QuantumScape will be ready for production by 2025. Meanwhile, other companies are pouring money into the search for better batteries. GTM points out that Ionic Materials is one such company, as is Solid Energy, which has attracted investment capital from General Motors. Sakti3 was acquired by vacuum builder Dyson while Bosch has picked up polymer electrolyte pioneer Seeo. And let us not forget 95-year old John Goodenough, who is still laboring away on solid state battery research at his lab at the University Of Texas at Austin.
Volkswagen says, “A solid-state battery of the same size as a current battery package can achieve a range comparable to that of conventional [internal conbustion] vehicles. While the approach has a lot of promise, advances have been difficult to attain and no other battery supplier has been able to achieve automotive performance. Volkswagen successfully tested QuantumScape early-stage solid-state battery sample cells in Germany running at automotive rates of power — an industry first.”
You won’t find Tesla mentioned anywhere in these latest press releases, but don’t assume that company is not pursuing its own advanced battery research. Its latest battery cells for the Model 3 use much less cobalt than prior cells and it says it is actively researching new battery chemistry that will eliminate the need for cobalt entirely. While gasoline fires are far more common than battery fires, every time a Tesla battery catches fire, it creates international news headlines. No doubt Tesla would be delighted to move on to solid state batteries as soon as possible if for no other reason than to avoid such negative publicity.
We all know better, smaller, cheaper batteries with more power are coming and when they do, the age of the internal combustion engine will finally come to an end at long last. But when will that be? According to Volkswagen, that should happen around 2025. Let’s hope it happens a lot sooner than that.