Oil Co. To Help Toyota Mass Produce New Solid-State Battery

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Toyota unveiled a new solid-state battery last summer, and the company has not been letting the grass grow under its feet. Last week, the company hooked up with the Japanese firm Idemitsu Kosan to mass produce the battery within an ambitious 2027-2028 time frame. Idemitsu is an oil producer with a hand in the petrochemical business, so what gives?

Idemitsu To Supply Key Solid-State Battery Material

Idemitsu Kosan will supply a key material for Toyota’s new solid-state battery, that’s what gives. As for why an oil stakeholder would help bring about new technology that depresses the demand for oil, that’s a good question.

After all, conventional lithium-ion EV batteries are already eating into the automotive market. New solid-state technology will kick the electrification trend into high gear with faster charging times and safety improvements, in addition to longer driving range (lots more CleanTechnica coverage here).

If you have an answer, drop us a note in the comment thread. Diversification is one good guess. EVs may depress the demand for gasoline, but the global thirst for petrochemicals continues apace. Idemitsu, for example, is more familiar here in the US for its lubricant products under its Idemitsu Lubricants subsidiary. The company has also begun dipping a toe into wind, solar, and geothermal energy.

Along those lines, Idemitsu reportedly began eyeballing sulfide-based solid-state battery technology as early as 2001. That could provide the company with a new market for sulfur and sulfur compounds, which form major oil refinery byproducts.

Other researchers have also joined the search for a market-capable solid-state battery based on sulfide, attracted by the potential for surpassing the performance of conventional liquid electrolytes. Here’s a quick explainer from a 2018 study, produced by a team of researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences:

“In particular, among solid electrolytes, sulfide solid electrolytes are attracting much consideration, owing to their high conductivity, which is comparable to that of liquid electrolytes. Sulfide solid electrolytes originate from oxide solid electrolytes, and are formed by replacing oxygen ions with sulfur ions.”

Here Comes The Sulfide Solid-State Battery Of The Future

Toyota and Idemitsu began an under-the-radar collaboration on sulfide solid-state batteries in 2013, deploying Toyota’s cathode and anode materials with Idemitsu’s solid electrolyte. Now it looks like all that hard work is beginning to pay off.

In April of 2022, Idemitsu earned the attention of Japan’s technology accelerator, the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, which provided funding for a six-year project under the title, “Development of Mass Production Technology for Sulfide-Based Solid Electrolytes.”

The project builds on a small-scale solid-state battery demonstration facility launched by Idemitsu in November of 2021. The next step is a scaled-up pilot system to be located at the company’s Chiba Complex.

“Through the project, Idemitsu will accelerate the establishment of mass-production technology for solid electrolyte materials, based on our own raw materials and patents for materials and manufacturing technologies, which should contribute to the early launch of the all-solid-state battery market,” the company explained.

“Moreover, to further expand the all-solid-state battery market for the realization of an electric power society, Idemitsu will expand and advance business areas beyond solid electrolytes to adjacent areas (for providing values such as the further development of next-generation battery materials and recycling),” they added.

Long Range EV Batteries: Better Late Than Never

Toyota has taken its share of lumps for sticking with hybrid EV technology and promoting fuel cell EVs while other automotive stakeholders have jumped on next-generation lithium-ion technology to push the market for 100% battery powered mobility.

Nevertheless, now that Toyota is ready to go all-electric, it is jumping in with both feet first. In its solid-state EV battery announcement last week, Toyota underscored its commitment to collaborating on all-solid-state technology with Idemitsu.

“Through this collaboration, the two companies, which lead the world in the fields including material development relating to all-solid-state batteries, seek to ensure the successful commercialization of all-solid-state batteries in 2027-28,” Toyota explained.

“As for next-generation batteries which support an evolution of BEVs, Idemitsu has been working on research & development on elemental technologies for all-solid-state batteries since 2001, while Toyota started in 2006,” the company noted.

“This collaboration focuses on sulfide solid electrolytes, which are seen as a promising material to achieve high capacity and output for BEVs. Sulfide solid electrolytes are characterized by softness and adhesiveness to other materials, which is suitable for battery mass production,” Toyota also confirmed.

Phase 1 of the collaboration will focus on fine tuning the scaled-up pilot facility already planned by Idemitsu.

In Phase 2, the companies expect to begin mass production at the pilot facility, with an eye on launching battery-powered EVs sporting the new solid-state battery in the 2027-2028 time slot and then moving on to full-scale mass production.

Automotive News is among those reporting that the two companies expect their all-solid-state battery to provide for a driving range of more than 620 miles, and the capability  to charge up to 80% in just 10 minutes.

Upcycling Refinery Byproducts For The EV Battery Of The Future

In the announcement, Toyota also confirmed that petroleum refineries will play a key role in the development of a mass-produced solid-state battery.

“Idemitsu has also been developing production technologies of lithium sulfide which is an intermediate material for solid electrolytes, using by-products which are generated in the course of petroleum refining,” Toyota explained.

The two companies anticipate a steady, reliable source of lithium sulfide from Idemitsu’s petroleum business. That forecast is supported by the International Energy Agency, which anticipates that rising petrochemical demand will offset a coming slowdown in the use of petroleum for transportation fuels.

In a press conference last week, Idemitsu President and CEO Shunichi Kito drew attention to his company’s decades-long foray into solid-state battery technology. He also suggested how legacy fossil energy companies (looking at you, ExxonMobil) can leverage their existing assets to accelerate decarbonization in meaningful ways, rather than relying on carbon capture schemes.

“Idemitsu discovered the usefulness of sulfur components in the mid-1990s, and through our research and technological capabilities cultivated over many years, we have succeeded in creating a solid electrolyte,” he explained. “With our existing infrastructure and networks of service stations, refineries, and business offices throughout Japan, our initiatives are built on the knowledge and technology we have developed through our fossil fuel business.”

Where’s Congress?

Of course, no story about solid-state EV batteries would be complete without a mention of the state of affairs in the halls of Congress, where Republicans in the Republican-led House of Representatives have decided not to govern while President Joe Biden is in office. They fired their Speaker on October 4 without a replacement, and the House can’t conduct any normal business until the majority party elects a new Speaker.

That’s not normal, but it is entirely consistent with Republican-led efforts to prevent Biden from taking office in the first place. It wasn’t too long ago that 139 Republican members of the House voted in support of a scheme to overturn the 2020 elections in favor of the losing Republican candidate, Donald Trump.

The whack-a-mole chaos in the House since October 4 has accomplished almost the same thing, only without the help of a violent mob of white supremacists.

Meanwhile, over in the US Senate, Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama has been holding up hundreds of military promotions, while Republican Senators Rand Paul (Kentucky), JD Vance (Ohio), and Ted Cruz (Texas) have similarly shut down key State Department appointments.

It’s yet another indication of the outsized influence that Trump continues to wield on Republican members of Congress with a healthy assist from conservative media, despite having been rejected by voters in 2020.

If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Photo: New sulfide-based solid state EV battery to be mass produced by Toyota and Idemitsu (courtesy of Toyota).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3141 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey