The rules that govern stock markets in China are different than they are in other countries. Recently, CATL, the largest battery manufacturer in China, revealed plans to invest enormous amounts of money to increase its production capacity. But first it had to convince the Shenzhen Stock Exchange that its plans were realistic and in line with sound business practices. In response to several questions put to it by the stock exchange, the company said solid-state battery development faces technical difficulties that will prevent mass production from occurring for a long time yet.
According to CnEVPost, CATL was asked to explain the development of technology paths for solid-state batteries, sodium ion batteries, and hydrogen fuel cells, along with the risks that each could pose to its operations and capacity expansion. Solid-state batteries and hydrogen fuel cells have certain technical features and advantages, but there are still unresolved technical problems and barriers to mass production, the company said.
These new technologies are subject to cost economics, performance indicators, and industry chain support constraints, and it will take a long time from technical problem solving and customer certification approval to mass production, CATL said, adding that it is still some distance away from achieving mature commercial applications.
The announcement cited a previous speech by Ouyang Minggao, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who said it would take about 10 years for solid-state battery technology to achieve large scale application and have a significant impact on the market landscape.
The first generation of solid-state batteries, which have roughly the same energy as current lithium-ion batteries, is expected to emerge by 2025, with their market share approaching 1% by 2030, CATL said. It added that second generation solid-state batteries with new cathode and anode materials are expected to emerge after 2030, and the next generation of solid-state batteries is expected to enter the market after 2035.
Supply Constraints Ahead
The Shenzen Stock Exchange was concerned that CATL was overspending to boost production, but the company responded that even with the additional investment, it would still have a shortfall in production capacity of 430 gigawatt-hours (GWh) by 2025. It said it produced 106.41 GWh of batteries from January to September 2021 and that the new production line currently in operation will have a design capacity of 220 to 240 GWh per year after stable operation.
Looking at future capacity demand and the company’s existing capacity, the company told the Shenzen Stock Exchange it will have a capacity gap of about 430 GWh in 2025 unless it adds manufacturing capacity. “The company’s capital raise will be used to add lithium ion battery capacity of approximately 135 GWh, which is consistent with business development needs,” it said. Even at that, the company will still have a capacity gap of 295 GWh in 2025.
CATL is vying to supply batteries to NIO, which wants its new ET7 sedan to have 600 miles of range (NEDC) from a 150 kWh battery pack. Speaking at NIO Day 2020, founder William Li said the ET7 battery is more accurately described as semi-solid-state.
William Li, NIO founder, chairman, and CEO, clarified in an interview after NIO Day 2020 that the NIO ET7’s solid-state battery is more accurately described as a semi-solid-state battery. Investors close to NIO say the company began preparing a 150 kWh semi-solid-state battery pack project in 2019 and first turned to CATL for a solution.
NIO’s engineering team spent almost half a year working with CATL executives, but the battery maker claimed the company’s requirements could not be met. “They felt it was impossible to achieve and that no one in the industry was offering such a solution,” the sources claimed. Recently, talks with Apple also went nowhere.
NIO reportedly has turned to WeLion, a much smaller Chinese battery company, for the semi-solid-state batteries for the ET7, but CATL is back in the game and reportedly developing a new battery with an ultra high nickel content to win the business back after NIO made a large investment in WeLion.
The upshot of all this — if you believe one of the world’s largest battery companies — is that there are solid-state batteries and then there are better solid-state batteries. Toyota says it will bring cars to market in 2025 that are powered by solid-state batteries but they will be first generation products. If you want to know when the real batteries of the future will arrive, CATL’s estimate that they will be commercially available in 2035 seems the most accurate forecast. If Toyota can get there 10 years ahead of CATL, that really will be big news.