The dust has yet to settle on solid-state technology, a relatively new development in the EV battery field that promises longer range and faster charging. Some advocates argue that a semi-solid approach is the best way to go, rather than betting the ranch on undeveloped technology. BMW is among a group that has seen enough proof, and it has just announced another milestone in its solid-state EV battery plans.
Building A Better EV Battery
Conventional lithium-ion technology has been shouldering the EV battery load for almost 15 years. During that time battery costs have plummeted, range has lengthened, and charging times have shortened.
Nevertheless, automakers have been looking around for the next big thing, and solid-state technology is it. Advocates claim a significant improvement in performance when the liquid electrolyte in an EV battery is replaced with a solid one, along with safety enhancements.
Automakers that aim to polish up their sustainability profile are also anticipating lifecycle improvements for solid-state technology, including end-of-life recycling. That depends on the battery design, but solid-state batteries have a head start on the sustainability side because they can be designed from the ground up to optimize end-of-life materials recovery.
That explains why BMW hooked up with Ford in May of 2021 to provide the US solid-state battery firm Solid Power with an infusion of $130 million in Series B funding.
BMW Not Giving Up On Liquid Electrolyte, Yet
While pursuing the next big thing in EV batteries, BMW has also been leveling up conventional lithium-ion technology to keep pace with interest in its electric vehicle lineup.
Last September, the BMW Group announced that its Neue Klasse electric vehicles will sport new batteries beginning in 2025, billing them as the sixth generation of its lithium-ion cells.
“Compared to the prismatic cells of the fifth BMW battery cell generation, the nickel content in the sixth-generation BMW round cells is higher on the cathode side, while the cobalt content is reduced. On the anode side, the silicon content will be increased,” the company explained.
“The newly-developed sixth generation of our lithium-ion cells will bring a huge leap in technology that will increase energy density by more than 20 percent and speed up charging time by up to 30%, while increasing battery range by up to 30%.”
The increase in performance has not come at a cost. Instead of adding expense, BMW gives itself props for achieving a significant cut in EV battery costs.
“… the team from development, production and purchasing has been able to significantly reduce costs for the high-voltage battery, thanks to the new battery cell and new integration concept for battery technology developed by BMW,” the company stated. As for how much, BMW is anticipating a 50% drop in costs based on the current state of affairs in the automotive market.
On the sustainability side, BMW also noted that production of the new cells involves lowering carbon emissions by up to 60%, partly by locating its factories where clean power is available.
Remind Us Why We Need A Solid-State EV Battery
Gilding the sixth-generation EV battery lily is a space saving architecture that provide BMW’s design team with new opportunities to integrate battery arrangements with other design and engineering elements.
All of these improvements lead one to wonder why BMW needs solid-state EV batteries at all. One good answer is that everyone else is pursuing them. Along with Ford, Stellantis and other established automakers, that includes up-and-comers in the vehicle electrification field like Vinfast.
For the record, Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard is also a fan, as is the US Department of Energy.
The Energy Department’s cutting edge funding office, ARPA-E, issued this explainer back in 2013:
“Innovative approaches to EV battery manufacturing present the opportunity to maximize stored energy relative to the weight of EVs, allowing for up to three times the driving range. These new battery chemistries and designs prevent overheating, are immune to catastrophic failure, and can be incorporated into the structure of a vehicle to improve strength in some cases. Much of this can be accomplished at a 30% lower cost compared to conventional batteries, thus bolstering widespread adoption of EVs.”
Improvements in conventional lithium-ion technology have altered the calculation to some degree, but ARPA-E has continued to push the envelope on the solid-state EV battery of the future, and Solid Power is among the US firms tapped for a financial assist.
Earlier this month, ARPA-E provided Solid Power with an award of up to $5.6 million to continue its R&D work on solid-state batteries. The new EV battery contains no nickel or cobalt, which is a huge plus on the supply chain end. Instead, it relies on a lithium metal anode and a cathode that consists of a sulfur composite, leading to lower costs along with performance enhancements.
BMW Plays The Long Game On EV Batteries
Considering the latest news from Solid Power, it’s no wonder that BMW has jumped at the chance to set the wheels in motion for commercial production. Last week, the company announced that it has engaged Solid Power in an R&D license, which provides for BMW to establish a solid state prototype line at its Cell Manufacturing Competence Center in Germany.
“The broadened relationship provides significant benefits to both companies, including conducting complementary cell development and manufacturing activities at both Solid Power and the BMW Group to further advance all-solid-state cell design and manufacturing know-how,” BMW explained.
Frank Weber, who is the Member of the BMW Board of Management for Development, confirmed that BMW has a long term outlook on the road-worthiness of all-solid state EV batteries and does not intend to go halfway to semi-solid.
“BMW remains committed to the pursuit of all-solid-state batteries, a technology which we believe has significant potential for the future,” he said, adding that the new relationship with Solid Power will “accelerate the installation of our solid-state prototype line and our companies’ mutual goal of commercializing this promising cell technology.”
Next steps include delivering test-sized cells to BMW later this year. In last week’s announcement, BMW also affirmed that its new sixth-generation batteries will continue to play a role in its electrification plans. The group aiming for 50% of total sales to be fully electric before 2030, with Mini and Rolls-Royce going 100% electric at the turn of the decade or shortly thereafter.
As for Ford, the company is playing its relationship with Solid Power a little closer to the vest. Like BMW, Ford appears to be working the long game towards all solid-state batteries, while continuing to introduce improved iterations of conventional lithium-ion technology, with a focus on a lithium iron phosphate formula.
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Photo (screenshot): New solid-state batteries for electric vehicles EV courtesy of BMW Group.
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