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Technology Landscape: Solid-state batteries

Shishir Jairam, Research Associate
October 27, 2021

As the search for the next-generation high-energy-density, safe and low-cost batteries continues, solid-state batteries have emerged as one of the key technologies to achieve the goal. As the name suggests, solid-state batteries are a type of batteries that do not use liquid electrolytes and separators, replacing them completely with solid electrolytes. Although the technology has yet to gain traction in terms of commercialization, researchers and battery manufacturers view solid-state batteries as a long-term benefit.

Solid-state batteries are safe, have a high energy density, and boast a wide range of operating temperatures. They use solid materials like polymer or ceramic to transfer ions from the anode to the cathode. These batteries are known to have high ionic conductivity of about 10−3 S/cm and are also nonflammable. Replacing the separators also has the potential to decrease the thickness of the battery, thus reducing the internal resistance. Despite their advantages, solid-state batteries still have challenges to overcome. The manufacturing process remains a hurdle, and integrating solid electrolytes with lithium anodes without dendritic growth remains a key barrier. To get a comprehensive overview of the technology landscape for solid-state batteries and identify existing themes and trends among players and regions, we analyzed patents, funding, and location using Lux's proprietary data tools.

Pie chart showing the percentage of solid-state battery players in the Americas, APAC, and EMEA. Bar graph showing the count of organization by battery technology.

  • Asia-Pacific and the Americas dominate the solid-state battery space: Companies like Panasonic, Toyota, and CATL that are based out of Asia-Pacific are the innovation leaders in the solid-state battery space; a large number of the patents filed and investments made in the solid-state battery space have been through these companies. Research universities across the globe have also played a key role, as the number of published papers and patents in the past three years has increased drastically. While big corporations are leading the way in Asia-Pacific, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are very active across the Americas. The increasing number of SMEs and the research work done by academic institutions are the primary innovators in the solid-state battery space across the Americas. Although EMEA has low activity compared to the other two regions, joint ventures and long-term partnerships between automobile manufacturers and battery developers will see the region staying relevant in the next decade.

  • Corporates play a key role across the globe, with a few promising startups emerging: This can mainly be attributed to the investments the corporates have put into the research and development of solid-state batteries. Additionally, corporations are also getting into joint ventures with SMEs to commercialize the technology. Companies in the automotive space, most notably Toyota, have been working on the technology for almost a decade now, and these companies hold majority patents and are leaders in solid-state batteries. Startups like QuantumScape and Solid Power are emerging as the major key players to unlock the potential of solid-state batteries; both companies are currently working on manufacturability and operations at low temperatures.

  • Academic institutes are active across all types of electrolyte research: Many academic institutions focus on more than one type of electrolyte. These institutions have outnumbered the SMEs currently working on solid-state batteries. Major research institutions across the Americas are progressing in the development of solid-state batteries and are the driving force toward a better understanding of the technology. The research work on solid-state batteries by institutes across Asia has also progressed swiftly, and the research work is utilized by big corporations and SMEs for the development of the same on a larger scale.

 

A market map showing key players in the different types of solid-state battery technologies.

  • Oxide-based electrolytes: Oxide-based electrolytes are the earliest solid electrolytes proposed by researchers. They are known to have low thermal resistance and be nonflammable. Although these electrolytes possess properties that might be deemed to be safe, they are also known to have lower ionic conductivity, and the powdery nature of the particles makes it hard for them to adhere to the electrode active material, although adding a small quantity of liquid or gel electrolyte improves adherence. Companies like Murata and QuantumScape are currently leading innovators in oxide-based electrolytes. QuantumScape has already gone public via SPAC and has received significant investment from Volkswagen; it is planning to open a pre-pilot line facility by 2023.

  • Sulfide-based electrolytes: Sulfide-based electrolytes represent the most crowded segment in solid-state electrolyte technology. The electrolytes are known to exhibit high ionic conductivity due to their large atomic radius; the bigger atomic radius results in "jumps" for the atom in the solid, which increases conductivity and ensures good adhesion to the lithium ions. Big corporations across Japan have focused on sulfide-based electrolytes and have tried implementing them in practical applications. Toyota is the pioneer in the development of these types of electrolytes. There is a high volume of investment in sulfide-based electrolytes. Research institutes across Asia have mainly focused on these electrolytes and have received investments from big corporations based out of Japan and Korea. Startups including Solid Power are also developing sulfide-based electrolytes and finding them to be more successful than the other types of electrolytes, with a current focus on developing large-format cells for pilot demonstrations. Like other startups, Solid Power has also gone public via SPAC and has received large investments from automobile companies, while LG Energy Solution has emerged as the key player in solid electrolyte technology, with multiple patents under its name.

  • Polymer-based electrolytes: Polymer-based electrolytes are the most mature electrolyte technology, and they are preferred because of their easy manufacturability compared to the other electrolytes. The graph clearly indicates that a significant number of SMEs and research institutes are focusing on polymer electrolytes, and there has been an increase in the number of patents in the research and development of these types of electrolytes. Although the electrolytes are used commercially, fundamental research still holds the key to realizing the goal. Well-known startups like Ionic Materials and Blue Solutions are currently researching polymer-based solid electrolytes but have yet to find a breakthrough, and no roadmap has been laid for pilot demonstrations. Big corporations are also looking into having JVs with SMEs working on this concept.

  • Hybrid electrolytes: A combination of inorganic electrolytes and polymer electrolytes, these types of electrolytes have gained major interest from all sectors. Corporations, research institutes, and SMEs want to have the best combination of the above three electrolytes. Startups like Sakuu and Lionano have placed their bet on the hybrid electrolyte. As with polymer-based electrolytes, fundamental studies are key to unlocking the potential of hybrid electrolytes, and challenges still remain. Looking at the key players, big corporations like LG Energy Solution and Panasonic have the majority of patents on the electrolytes and are the leaders, but one can expect the startups to slowly pick up pace and commercialize the technology in the next decade.


 

Overall, the technology landscape of solid-state batteries across the four main electrolytes is mostly composed of corporates, which have focused extensively on sulfide-based and polymer-based electrolytes; however, the activity of early-stage companies and SMEs developing the technology is slowly increasing. Given how sluggish the progress toward commercialization of solid-state batteries has been, Lux does not expect significant adoption in the next five years and continues to look toward large-scale commercialization near 2030. Toyota Motor has led solid-state battery development and has also had joint ventures with Panasonic but has yet to achieve what it has promised – missing a key milestone of showing a prototype at the Tokyo Olympics. SMEs now hold the key to successful implementation, and differentiation will be based on cell design and manufacturability.

There is a high level of investment in solid-state battery technology, with an estimated $860 million invested in startups in 2020; this is expected to increase further over the next five years. Clients should understand that while a lot of money and effort has been invested in this technology, moderate progress has been made in the past three years, and commercialization will be a slow process. The technology is unlikely to challenge the incumbent conventional liquid electrolyte technology in the coming decade, and Lux expects to see the commercialization of the technology no earlier than 2030 as corporates, SMEs, and research universities huddle to overcome the key barriers the technology faces today.

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