While Tesla thinks it can get lithium-ion battery costs down to $100 a kWh through mass production at the Gigafactory, a lot of research is going into building a better, and cheaper, battery. SolidEnergy Systems claims it has developed a lithium-metal battery with twice the energy density as the Tesla Model S, but at less than half the cost reports Design News.
SolidEnergy claims that its batteries can be as dense as 1,337 Wh/L, claims it says have been independently verified by A123 Systems (which also got its start as a MIT spinoff). The key is a “biphasic” electrolyte solution that morphs between a solid and liquid state, using an ionic liquid and polymer to boost performance while also allowing for much lower operating temperatures. This eliminates the need for costly cooling systems and metal hardware to prevent “thermal runaway” scenarios, and at full scale production SolidEnergy says its batteries could be built for as little as $130 per kWh.
Compare this to the $300 to $500 per kWh many major automakers, including Tesla, are currently paying. Even with the Gigafactory operating at full capacity, some analysts say major battery Tesla price reductions won’t come until 2018 at the soonest, and not down to levels Elon Musk predicts. SolidEnergy’s batteries would also be much lighter without all the additional cooling hardware, making it much easier to build a low-weight (and this more efficient) electric car.
Unfortunately, the battery technology is still only buildable on a labrotory level, and so far no battery breakthroughs have managed to scale up in a commercially feasible way. I’ve personally written about dozens of “game changing” battery “breakthroughs” over the past five years, the most recent one being from a Michigan start-up called Sakti3, and while the SolidEnergy press release makes their lithium-metal battery pack sounds promising, so has every other press release to gum up my inbox.
Still, keep your eyes out for this one, because once a better battery does make it to market, electric cars stand a much better chance of competing with conventional vehicles.