Pace Of Battery Development May Leave Latest Tech In The Dust


To the victors go the spoils

We hear about improvements in battery technology pretty regularly, and no wonder. With the potential for a superior chemistry to result in billions of dollars of revenue, teams around the world — in commercial enterprises and universities alike — are hard at work trying to create energy storage that will function significantly better than what we use today, and for a lot less money.

So far, it seems like there haven’t been any real breakout breakthroughs in batteries, though we have seen definite improvements. When true winning solutions start to emerge, however, it will likely leave many efforts high and dry with “stranded assets” — equipment and other things specifically designed for certain manufacturing processes that may not be needed for making a new formulation.

With as much as $16.7 billion invested in existing facilities and $42 billion more in additional capacity being put in place by 2022, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, one can see how much is at stake. Let’s say an outfit like, perhaps, Fisker, delivers with its solid state battery technology and it lives up to its hype. A lot of this investment may be “stranded,” while companies rush to adopt the latest tech. Who is going to buy an electric car with a 40 kWh battery that’s slow to charge, when they can spend the same money for something with a 150 kWh battery that charges in a jiffy? No one.

Not all assets would be stranded, of course. Buildings and land are still needed, and we imagine even some of the equipment will still be usable. Still, supply contracts for now-unnecessary minerals will get canceled and money invested in incremental improvements in existing chemistry will go by the wayside as that research is abandoned.

Consider what happens if another energy storage technology superior to solid state batteries comes along, then? We could again see abandoned efforts and more lost investments. This is just one of the challenges facing companies today as they attempt to find success and profit in an electric future.

Source: Automotive News

Categories: Battery Tech

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44 Comments on "Pace Of Battery Development May Leave Latest Tech In The Dust"

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(⌐■_■) Trollnonymous

I doubt a big breakthrough will hit that will make current tech obsolete. I don’t even think Solid states will.
Incremental s like NMC 811 is more likely to happen and that won’t make current tech obsolete now. It’s not readily available and maybe not till end of 2019.

@Trollnonymous said: I doubt a big breakthrough will hit that will make current tech obsolete…”


It has been and will continue to be y/y incremental improvement same as microprocessors & solar PV panels.

If a big breakthrough does happen it would take multi years of testing & validation before reaching commercial production. Any big battery breakthrough would advertised well in advance of commercial deployment… no magic battery is going to suddenly pop up in production cars and surprise everybody… certainly not OP’s hypothetical Fisker.

I think that’s right. LG Chem telegraphed two years in advance that it would be making significantly cheaper li-ion battery cells; ones with better depth of discharge. Nobody was surprised when they started appearing in EVs.

Yeah, a breakthrough might emerge unexpectedly from a tiny startup or a university research team, but it’s going to take a few years for that to get into production. In the meantime, competitors can either negotiate for licensing the tech, or try to develop alternatives which are more or less as good.

LG Chem was the first to put a new, cheaper li-ion cell chemistry into production, but nonetheless Samsung and Panasonic seem to have remained competitive. It seems likely to me that this kind of situation will be repeated with the next advance, even if it’s a bigger advance.

LG Chem trails Panasonic in most measures and now that the Model 3 and the GigaFactory are rolling Panasonic is probably pulling away. Li-ion has been around for 20 years or more, numerous different ‘new, cheaper’ chemistries have been produced over that time. Sony brought it to market, Panasonic is the current king of the hill and LG is a decent competitor, but I’d rather have a Panasonic-based EV battery myself: Tesla or Toyota being the big two.

And yet we’ve seen a few vehicle conversions where a GM/LG battery was used with Tesla motors to power the car. GM/LG batteries have proven to take more of a beating.

Beta or VHS? Best tech or best marketing?

“When true winning solutions start to emerge, however, it will likely leave many efforts high and dry with ‘stranded assets’ — equipment and other things specifically designed for certain manufacturing processes that may not be needed for making a new formulation.”

But that’s true of every product which uses cutting-edge tech, from smart phones to pharmaceuticals to light bulbs. They are all in danger of being rendered obsolete by a competitors product.

A manufacturing company can choose to make products with a stable mature technology, like pencils or cotton T-shirts, with a very thin profit margin. Or it can make a riskier “bet” on making a high-tech product.

As they say: “Go big or go home.”

And who is making the most batteries, by far, of any auto manufacturer? What company is being dragged through the mud for not being profitable, spending too much on new facilities and R&D? No promise who has the breakthrough, but you hedge your bet by trying really, really hard.

“And who is making the most batteries, by far, of any auto manufacturer?”

Well, BYD. That’s the only auto maker which actually makes its own battery cells.

But I think you mean the company which makes Tesla’s battery cells, which is Panasonic.

“What company is being dragged through the mud for not being profitable…”

Tesla. Panasonic is plenty profitable, I think. Tesla and Panasonic have a close partnership at Gigafactory 1, but let’s not confuse the two.

“Well, BYD. That’s the only auto maker which actually makes its own battery cells.”

Nissan kind of makes it’s own battery cells too, through AESC (Automotive Energy Supply Corporation) which is Nissan’s joint venture with NEC and TOKIN.

The legacy automakers have relied on this mentality for many years now in stalling EV development – recently confirmed by executives at Ford and Toyota. They will share the fate of BlackBerry, Nokia, Motorola,… by not adapting in the face of changes.

Hehe, ok – what is going on here is a bit of a scam apparently – I’m not talking about the individual merits of this particular case – I’m talking about all these “HUGE BREAKTHROUGHS” in general.

Its rather like, in 1951 Venezuela claimed a HUGE BREAKTHROUGH in Nuclear FUSION POWER. Problem was no one could duplicate it.

Lately, there are, from time to time – announcements of huge breakthroughs in FP, (usually when the gov’t funding is about to expire and many ‘Scientists’ would be put out of a job) – the reason for the quotes is they are obviously being NAUGHTY – they know they are plowing down a dead end street, but its not revealed to be generally the case to outsiders until much later.

So – I’ve seen this movie before. The researchers in general are not revealing ALL they know….. They won’t tell you they’re on a dead end street until they are forced to.

In “1951”. Jeez, Bill, how old are you? Tonight Musk and Marques B. released a new one, where unfortunately Musk seems to hint the Roadster is not only far off, but that “10-20%” battery improvement is all that’s expected of the 200KWh. That’ll be heavy.

“Who is going to buy an electric car with a 40 kWh battery that’s slow to charge, when they can spend the same money for something with a 150 kWh battery that charges in a jiffy? No one.”

There are A123 batteries today, that are 40KWh, as light as you’d think 40KWh would be, that charge in a “jiffy”. Buying a Model 3 and retrofitting them inside would be a tempting thing to explore. Much faster.

Uh, chief, I wasn’t alive at the time. But I familiarize myself with history.

By all means go buy some batteries. The researchers need more money.

I watched that part closely (~12 minutes in). He said things like “the floor would be 4-5″ higher, if we used current technology”. That’s 10″ higher than the original Roadster, which has roughly the same roof height. The 20% improvement itself sounded iffy. So *maybe* they can make the floor only 8-9″ higher than Roadster 1? That’s not a usable car..

He also said high end cars can afford expensive new tech. By 2020-21 that’ll be solid state.

Tesla can’t let someone else be first. They can’t let a competitor blow their battery specs away. Their brand is built on leadership.

How do you get from 4-5″ higher to 10″ higher? 4-5″ higher means 4-5″ higher, another layer of batteries, not 10″ which would be 2 more layers of batteries.

The original Roadster did not have any battery in the floor. If you put two S100 packs in the floor you raise it 10″.

More like 6-7 inches.

Still sticking with your story, even when Musk’s statements made it totally clear that they are *not* counting on any major breakthrough, such as solid state batteries? If 10-20% improvement was all that we are to expect from solid state batteries, there would be zero hype around them.

The entire EV revolution is going to be one long road of stranded assets, like a garbage scow leaving behind a trail of rubbish. There are going to be big winners and big losers. But revolutions are like that and the time for this revolution has come.

Combine it with the shift to autonomous vehicles (transportation as a service), and we’ll have even more losers.

Similar to the smartphone “industry”.

Actually, it will be a bit like laptop computers and how the market is going to be like.

There will be companies that die but there will be many more that will survive as I don’t think there is 1 end all be all battery at the end of it.

For a bit of time, it *could* be 1 company who has made it. But others will have substitutes that could be “good enough” that will create competition etc.

I don’t see a lot “stranded”, it will still be foils, binders, anodes and cathodes done on a roll to roll machine.
Different chemistry, binders, separators and electrolytes will happen, but similar technology.

That seems right to me.

That is why the Tesla Reno factory could change quickly if required.

I think a lot of people misunderstand how technology evolves. It isn’t as simple as having a breakthrough, breakthroughs happen every year. But the process in itself is a bit more complex than that. Imagine that I made a new battery technology that is 2x better than what is available now. It then takes me 4 years to work out all the kinks and release the technology to the market. Except, my technology lacks economies of scale, so it is 10X more expensive than current lithium-ion, my technology continues to scale over years and in 5 years I reach cost parity with lithium ion. EXCEPT, lithium ion didn’t just sit there doing nothing. It continued to improve 7.5% per year, so during these 8 years, lithium-ion became 1.91X better than what I was competing with. Now my new breakthrough is nothing more than a 1 year improvement over current lithium-ion, if that process took 2 years more, I would be behind lithium-ion. All the incremental improvements we see today are all breakthroughs of years past that took time to materialize into incremental improvements. To show how vicious this cycle is, NiMH batteries came out in 1989, lithium ion in 1991.… Read more »

Very good arguments.

Even though history clearly confirms this, it is hard to admit that new technologies are at such disadvantage when the old technology has continuous improvement potential.

It is a question how much improvement potential is still in li-ion. I suppose there is still a fair amount. NCM-811 is just coming to market.

There is a comment which deserves to be preserved for posterity. Thank you!


The prevalence of NiMH has little to do with any vicious cycle. There are simply areas where NiMH is still more suitable than Li-Ion (such as 1.24 V cells serving as a drop-in replacement for Alkaline), or used to be until more diverse Li-Ion chemistries came up fairly recently. (Such as plug-less hybrid cars.) In other areas (e.g. phones, notebooks, and other consumer electronics), Li-Ion completely displaced NiMH just a few years after NiMH started displacing NiCd. In some areas (such as BEVs, or grid storage), NiCd or NiMH never gained much of a foothold at all — the industry went (or in some areas is still in the process of going) straight from Lead-Acid to Li-Ion. Saying that battery breakthroughs won’t come to market, because of incremental improvements in existing technology, is seriously misleading. Breakthroughs are what is *enabling* incremental improvements to keep happening. Going significantly beyond the current level is simply not possible without new electrode chemistries and/or structures, along with new electrolytes. So while you are totally right that no breakthrough will suddenly obsolete current technology (and thus the original article is nonsense), discounting the breakthroughs is equally wrong. Compare the evolution of microchips: we see ongoing… Read more »

Stranded tech… new innovations that are always just around the corner… sounds like more anti EV FUD. Don’t buy now… better stuff is always around the bend. We put up with this for decades at Apple. We would discover and invent and others MS would shoot off FUD for however long it took them to catch up. Hang in there Tesla… just keep building those cars, give the lazy carmakers a run for their money.

True – like in all things the one last to the new tech manufacturing dinning table wins.
But without research and incremental improvements on current products there is no progress.
Would be nice to rewards those that did the hard yards, but in the battery business it may fortune the late arrival which morally sucks.

“…like in all things the one last to the new tech manufacturing dinning table wins.”

If that was true, then Eastman Kodak would dominate the digital camera market, because they waited so long to market digital cameras.

I’d say, rather, that he who builds a better mousetrap is going to win the market, no matter how soon or late he builds it.

The problem with not being first to the table is that each new entry into a market has to be better (and/or cheaper) than what’s available, or it’s going to lose out to players who have already captured a segment of the customer base.

I follow the Li ion technology closely for almost two decades now. On average, there is a breakthrough announced every two weeks. Once the news reaches management higher up, e.g. with a newspaper article or so, there is a hubbub every time that someone somewhere may know something and there is either money to be made or worse, investments at risk. It trickles down the hierarchy until it hits the desk of guys like me to take a close look at the chemistry, the literature or patent claims, and calculate stuff like energy density and cost. For most of these breakthroughs, the raw material cost (and availability) are already a show-stopper. Energy density takes care of many more breakthroughs. Notably, at this point, life time, endurance, cycling stability and the myriad of other “minor” technical problems (like: “tends to form lethal clouds of gas when getting in contact with air”, or “needs to be manufactured in really small batches under really, really, really, high pressure”) are not even looked at yet. So far the major breakthrough topics Li-air (does not work at all) and Li-sulphur (energy density and life time too low for vehicles) have not been successful (despite hundreds… Read more »

What are your thoughts on SolidEnergy? Unlike most, they actually sell a few batteries.

Do they really? An article I stumbled upon recently claimed that they are actually only delivering evaluation samples…

Even with great long lasting light weight lithium batteries there are still lots of 10p year old tech lead acid batteries made sold and recycled. It will take years for any changes to be put in production and get the costs down.

This boggles my mind but is true. The low cost of lead acid is still compelling despite LI-ion beating it in every other way.

This seems to be changing, though. Li-Ion almost completely displaced Lead-Acid in grid storage applications for example; and the remaining niche/low-speed EV applications also seem to be switching over en mass right now…

Difficult to say. I was surprised when Goodenough displayed prototype solid state batteries in both flat and roll styles. This suggested to me that manufacturing investment in a particular format didn’t matter. Obviously there would have to be changes in the procedure, but not necessarily making all the existing equipment obsolete.

Depends. Some supposed breakthroughs are claiming to be compatible with existing manufacturing technology; others require different approaches.

“If wishes were horses”

Sure, all that stuff would happen.


And if Fisker had such a revolutionary battery coming in just two years, whats the best way of monetising it, build it into a few cars, or license it worldwide for use not just in cars but every electrically powered appliance on the planet? So, i think we can be confident Fisker have squat.

They plan on putting it into devices, as well as cars.
I think the conventional wisdom here is extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. So. I’m willing to listen to Fisker talk about this tech, and even get a little excited. But I’m not getting my hopes up until I see it validated.