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Nissan & NASA To Take On Solid-State Battery Challenge

Nissan/NASA research effort aims to create the next generation of batteries.

The solid-state battery is the Holy Grail of energy storage technology. It is projected to cost less than traditional lithium-ion batteries, have higher energy density, charge faster, and last longer. In other words, it is the “magic bullet” the world is waiting for to make the EV and energy storage revolutions complete.

There’s only one problem. The solid-state battery doesn’t exist outside of the laboratory yet. Research into how to make it in commercial quantities is going on in hundreds of places around the world. Toyota says it is getting close. QuantumScape and StoreDot say they are almost there. CATL, LG Energy Solutions, SK Innnovation, and Samsung SDI are all hot on the trail.

Now Nissan and NASA say they will team up to crack this particular nut using “computational materials science,” which is code for running zillions of computer models in the hopes of finding something that works.

In the old days, children would jump off the roof holding an umbrella to see what would happen. The umbrella would invariably collapse and a broken bone or two would result, but valuable lessons were learned. Wilbur and Orville Wright used a similar method to create the first airplane. It was an arduous process that took years and years of experimentation and toil. (David McCullough wrote a fabulous book about their work that is well worth reading.)

Most solid-state battery research today is focused on replacing the semi-liquid slurry that separates the internal components of conventional lithium-ion battery — which makes them look a little like a jellyroll when you slice them open. That goop is what burns when batteries overheat. It also increases the cost of batteries because it must be dried in the production process, which takes time, lots of energy, and requires a great deal of factory space.

According to ArsTechnica, the Nissan/NASA collaboration will go beyond finding new solid materials to separate the anode from the cathode. They want to find ways to replace the raw materials used in today’s batteries completely — things like nickel, cobalt, manganese, and all the other minerals that require specialized mining techniques and are subject to wild commodity price swings. For instance, the price of nickel has more than doubled since the January, causing most manufacturers to raise the price of their electric cars at a time when economies of scale should be driving prices down.

Solid-State By 2028

Nissan says it will have a pilot production facility to begin making batteries based on the new research by 2024 and expects cars powered by the next generation batteries to be available to customers by 2028, according to Detroit News. The new battery is expected to be half the size of today’s batteries and capable of charging in 15 minutes, although Nissan doesn’t say whether that performance will be possible with Level 2 charging equipment, as opposed to Level 3 DC fast chargers.

Nissan vice president Kazuhiro Doi told the press this week, “Both NASA and Nissan need the same kind of battery.” Nissan and NASA will use what is called an “original material informatics platform” — a computerized database of hundreds of thousands of materials — to see which ones will work best to create new battery technologies. The battery development program will include researchers from the University of California San Diego.

There is no guarantee that Nissan and NASA will achieve their goal, or that some other battery researchers won’t get a solid-state battery into production before they do. The good news for EV enthusiasts is better, cheaper, and faster charging batteries are coming. And when they arrive, the transition to affordable carbon-free transportation will accelerate dramatically.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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