THE BIG THREE Japanese car manufacturers are set to collaborate in the research and development of solid-state battery technology. Toyota, Honda and Nissan are partnering with battery giants Panasonic and GS Yasua to form The Consortium for Lithium Ion Battery Technology and Evaluation Centre, referred to as Libtec.
The recipient of a $20 million support grant from Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Libtec plans to fast track the power source for the next generation of electric vehicles.
A solid-state battery replaces the liquid or gel-form electrolyte found in today’s lithium-ion batteries with a solid, conductive material. As well as offering more capacity density, a solid-state battery is inherently safer thanks to a lower operating temperature. It is however, far trickier to build cost effectively, which is the major hurdle that needs to be overcome.
“There are a few next-generation battery technologies we’re looking at, and the most promising is an all solid-state battery,” Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada said in an interview at last year’s Tokyo Motor Show. “We’re scrambling to finish developing this technology, but a few issues still remain as we try to mass produce this,” he admitted.
Nissan is nothing like as bullish, expecting production-ready solid state batteries to only reach the market halfway through the next decade. Takao Asami, Nissan's senior vice president for research and advanced engineering, has said that there are still several obstacles to be overcome.
"All solid-state batteries, roughly speaking, are still in the initial phase of research. So according to my feeling, it's practically a zero at this stage," Asami said. “It's working in the lab," Asami admitted.
"But if we make it bigger and put it in a vehicle, drive for several kilometres and ensure safety and cost performance, compared to a lithium ion battery, we don't have a comparable scenario yet. We still need several breakthroughs.”
That’s where Libtec could pay dividends, pooling the R&D expertise for the common good. Libtec's two-stage goal is to first produce a 550km-capable battery pack by 2025 with the endgame being an 800km pack by 2030. So don’t hold off your next EV buying decision just yet. Asami reckons there’s plenty of life left in the traditional lithium ion tech. “We have a goal for two more generations or so.”
Libtec hopes to stem the flow of battery production from Japan to China and Korea, a move that has seen Japan’s share of the global EV battery market slip from 70 percent in 2013 to 41 percent just three years later. In that same period, Chinese companies expanded their combined global share from three percent to 26 percent.
This isn’t the first time that traditional Japanese rivals have collaborated to drive R&D into a higher gear. The same three car manufacturers have recently created a company to build hydrogen fuel stations in the country for fuel cell vehicles. Prior to that, the businesses put their heads together to boost the number of Japanese EV charging stations.