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Electric car battery breakthrough could ease range anxiety

Charging electric car
Charging electric car

A lighter, more powerful electric car battery that could ease range anxiety has moved a step closer following a breakthrough in technology.

TDK, best known in Britain as a producer of cassette tapes in the 1970s and 1980s, said it had developed a solid-state battery with an energy density 100 times that of its previous model.

While TDK will produce the battery for earphones, hearing aids and smartwatches, a scaled-up version could potentially power a new generation of electric vehicles (EVs), with its higher output boosting the driving distance achievable before recharging.

Solid-state batteries are expected to offer a range of up to 1,500km (930 miles), far exceeding the 500km achievable on the lithium-ion batteries standard in most existing EVs.

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So-called range anxiety has been identified as one of the biggest factors preventing drivers from switching from a car with a standard combustion engine to an electric model. Carmakers have been struggling to win over drivers in Britain beyond the ranks of early adopters typically making only short journeys in cities.

TDK said it achieved the breakthrough using a proprietary ceramic material that gives the battery an energy density of 1,000 watt hours per litre (wh/l). That compares with about 700 wh/l for the best-performing lithium-ion batteries.

Solid-state batteries are also regarded as safer, since they contain no liquid electrolyte and have shorter charging times.

‘Significant contribution to energy transformation’

Noboru Saito, the chief executive of TDK, said: “We believe that our newly developed material for solid-state batteries can make a significant contribution to the energy transformation of society.”

The battery uses oxide-based solid ceramic electrolyte and lithium alloy anodes. Maintaining contact between the two is more of a challenge than with liquid electrolyte, and the battery must also be kept under pressure to function, representing a further technical challenge.

Among major carmakers, Japanese manufacturers have been the most bullish in talking up the potential of solid-state batteries. Toyota in particular has been pursuing battery development in-house, and is planning to commercialise the technology before the end of 2027.

However, that target is later than previous estimates, with the mechanical challenges of scaling up the batteries proving an obstacle to progress.

Semi-solid-state batteries have emerged as an interim solution, with Chinese carmaker Nio offering them as an option on its ET7 saloon, which has an advertised range of 1,000km.

‘Delays and missed targets’

Rho Motion, a consultancy specialising in the battery market, said it may take until 2035 for the batteries to penetrate the mass market, especially since they are even more expensive to produce than the lithium-ion alternative.

While a typical EV battery represents about a third of the cost of the car, the figure rises to 50pc for the Nio and would be even higher for a pure solid-state model.

Iola Hughes, of Rho Motion, said: “The solid-state arena has been an important one in the battery industry for some time but there has been a consistent theme of delays and missed targets. What we are starting to see now is incremental changes. But cost and scaling are the big obstacles.”

Solid electrolyte is also prone to brittleness, potentially affecting battery life, while the batteries perform poorly in low temperatures.

Ms Hughes added that solid-state batteries may become a popular solution for electric-powered heavy trucks that are unable to run on lithium-ion technology.