Another day, another big day for solid-state battery news. Last week, Nissan came out swinging with a big bet on small-car electrification, in the form of a restyled, 100% electric version of its subcompact Micra. Going small is quite a risk these days, as the smart EV money seems to be congealing around the idea of SUVs and pickup trucks. However, with a solid-state battery on board, the Micra could weigh in with a low price point that attracts a flurry of new car buyers.
A 100% Electric Micra Or Something Of The Sort, Coming Soon
The entry-level Micra made a splash when Nissan first launched it several years ago, partly on account of its design linkage with Nissan’s 2015 Sway concept car. Writing up the Sway for Car and Driver, reporter Steve Siler noted that “Nissan’s design team has really been turning up the wick lately, and now we get to see how a Euro-centric hatchback would look wearing the brand’s latest design language.”
“In a word: awesome,” he added.
It appears that Nissan is determined to spread some of that pixie dust on the new EV, which it describes as a successor to the “iconic Micra.”
In a press release announcing plans for the new car, Nissan made sure to carve out a design identity distinct from the Alliance partnership it has formed with Renault and Mitsubishi Motors.
“This is a great example of the Alliance’s ‘smart differentiation’ approach,” said Nissan Chief Operating Officer Ashwani Gupta, emphasizing that “This all-new model will be designed by Nissan and engineered and manufactured by Renault using our new common platform, maximizing the use of our Alliance assets while maintaining its Nissan-ness.”
No word yet on what the new EV will actually be named, but it will be a real thing. Nissan plans to build it in the Renault ElectriCity Centre in France.
A New Solid-State Battery For ICE Price Parity
For those of you new to the topic, a solid-state battery is just what it sounds like. Instead of the liquid electrolyte sported by conventional lithium-ion batteries, a solid-state battery deploys a specialized solid material, such as a form of ceramic or a polymer.
That’s not as easy as it sounds, and skepticism abounds. However, the technology has improved rapidly in the past two years or so. Almost all of the leading EV makers have jumped on board, anticipating that a solid-state battery will gild the zero emission lily with lower cost, longer range, a more dependable supply chain, and a more eco-friendly journey through the cycle of automotive life.
Among the believers is the Alliance, which announced joint plans for EV expansion last week under its leader-follower technology sharing model.
The three members of the alliance anticipate slashing battery costs in half by 2026, towards a goal of 65% by 2028, and apparently that’s just for starters.
“…the Alliance shares a common vision for all-solid-state battery technology (ASSB), the three automakers explained. “Based on its deep expertise and unique experience as a pioneer in battery technology, Nissan will lead innovations in this area that will benefit all Alliance members.”
“ASSB will have double the energy density versus current liquid lithium-ion batteries. Charging time will also be greatly reduced to one-third, enabling customers to make longer trips with increased, convenience, confidence and enjoyment,” they add.
If all goes according to plan, the Alliance will achieve mass production of solid-state battery technology sometime during 2028, with the ultimate aim of bringing the cost of an EV down to the cost of a comparable gasmobile.
They figure that a price point of $65 per kilowatt-hour for a solid-state battery will get them to parity. By way of comparison, last fall the US Department of Energy ran the numbers and came up with an estimate of $157/kwH for a conventional lithium-ion battery pack in 2021, which is actually pretty good considering that the estimate for 2008 was $1,237/kWh.
US Military Could Accelerate The Solid-State Revolution
Aside from deployment in the civilian sector, solid-state battery technology could be the key that unlocks the US military’s reluctance to transition into all-electric drive, and the power of the military purse could help speed the production of solid-state batteries for civilian use as well.
The Department of Defense is beginning to take some baby steps on vehicle electrification, at least on a hybrid EV basis, but progress has been slow. A solid-state battery would deliver the killer combo of low cost and improved range, making it all but impossible to resist tactical vehicles that can deploy scavenged energy while delivering the advantage of odorless, smokeless, silent running.
Helping things along is the National Defense Industrial Association, which produced a white paper last year on the topic of solid-state batteries.
“Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries based on the emerging solid-state technology offer higher capacities and lighter weights than the standard lithium-ion technologies in use today. For the consumer this offers a significant increase in safety. For the military, it means less weight required to meet mission requirements,” NDIA explained.
In particular, NDIA cited supply chain issues and the vanishingly small chance of catching up to China on the manufacture of conventional lithium-ion batteries.
“The only way for the US to become a world leader in the production of advanced lithium-ion battery technologies, rather than just the world leader in the consumption of these technologies, is to focus on promising technologies that are still in the basic research and development phase but are acknowledged to have a large upside for commercial and military applications,” they continued.
“Solid-state will be the next battery revolution and we can either choose to lead it or wait for others to solve it and hope they will be our friends later,” they concluded rather emphatically.
For those of you keeping score at home, NDIA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that describes itself as a driver of “strategic dialogue in national security,” not a lobbying organization. Either way, it is in a strong position to influence national battery policy, as a witness to a century-long evolution in military mobility technology. NDIA has roots in the Army Ordnance Association, which launched in 1919 when literal horsepower was still a feature in military operations
“NDIA Divisions facilitate government and industry interchanges, offering a wide array of opportunities to contribute ideas, make recommendations, and participate in objective studies and analyses with government. The Divisions maintain close contact with representatives of appropriate government agencies and, through their constructive counsel, have become institutions in American defense-industry relationships,” NDIA explains, by way of describing its influence.
NDIA currently lists more than 1,500 organizations and more than 64,000 individuals on its membership rolls. It’s a safe bet that agreement on solid-state battery technology is not universal across the board, but civilian fans of solid-state batteries appear to have a powerful friend on their side.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo (screenshot): Nissan teases new 100% EV riff on the Micra subcompact (screenshot courtesy of Nissan).
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