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Electric vehicle solid state battery technology likely a decade away: BMO

London — As the electric vehicle revolution continues apace, the main quest is for more efficient batteries that can travel longer distances, one hope is for solid state technology to speed the process, but this is likely a decade away, according to research by BMO.

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In a detailed note to clients BMO special projects analyst Kimberly Berman queried some of the myths that have emerged about the technology and validity of the more important claims, such as cost reduction and safety. There is hope that solid state could positively disrupt the lithium-ion battery and EV industries, according to BMO.

"Following detailed analysis of peer-reviewed papers and speaking with battery experts, we believe switching out the current liquid electrolytes for solid materials could be the key to achieving mass market EV penetration," BMO analyst Colin Hamilton said. "However, in our view we are at least 10 years away from perfecting the chemistry and there are also further developmental risks to consider."

Still, if Berman is too bearish in her predictions, "[and] solid state comes to fruition faster than we expect, achieving cost parity with ICE vehicles, then uptake will become much more rapid than our global EV market penetration rate of 12% by 2025."

She sees nickel and cobalt being the main beneficiaries as solid state technology slowly comes to market: "First generation solid-state batteries likely contain NCA and NMC2 cathodes - therefore, we see upside for both commodities through 2025."

A solid state battery is, as the name suggests, completely solid; the cell pack would omit the use of the liquid electrolyte currently employed, according to the research.

"However, the simplicity ends there...We have often lamented the secretive nature of the battery industry and sigh at the many bold headlines that do not offer much technical insight," added Berman.

However, solid state development is coming on, with Germany recently announcing a Eur1 billion investment into battery development, part of which has been allocated to a project called FestBatt (fest meaning solid in German).

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Companies involved in the initiative include Varta, BASF, Volkswagen, BMW, car parts maker Continental, conglomerate Thyssenkrupp, carbon fiber specialist SGL Carbon, Belgian materials firm Umicore, Coperion and Heraeus.

Speaking to S&P Global Platts Tuesday Professor Helmut Ehrenberg, from the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology [KIT], one of the lead scientists on the FestBatt project, said: "All-solid state batteries made in Europe/Germany would be disruptive for global cell manufacturing. It would change the game and open new chances for a redistribution of market share between Asia and the rest of the world." He noted that in contrast to conventional Li-ion technology "Germany and Europe are much better positioned with respect to the necessary applied ceramic processing technologies in comparison to the production processes required for conventional EV batteries."

Berman is cautious of how fast this will happen: "In reality, solid state technology is still at the materials selection phase of EV battery development and a material that can shuttle lithium ions at the same pace as the current electrolyte has yet to be found."

Ehrennerg was also hesitant: "In contrast to many published reports, the material challenges for all solid state batteries are far away from being solved to match with the requirements for commercial device production." He added that, "additional requirements for [viable] production must be resolved to make solid state batteries a commercial success."

BMO's Berman said that, "we believe there is significant risk that solid state will not be commercially achievable - at least in the near term - given the number and the complexity of the parameters that have yet to be resolved."

According to BMO data, in the year to end-September, global EV sales rose 67.5% year on year. This has outpaced BMO expectations "and we believe that this demand is driving innovation in all areas of the lithium-ion battery."

"Solid state continues to be viewed as the holy grail of EV development. Many believe the use of solid electrolytes will solve the cost and safety issues plaguing current lithium-ion battery technologies. However, we believe widespread use of solid-state technology for EVs is at least 10+ years out if the technological challenges are overcome," added Berman.

Seaborne lithium prices fell last week, with consumers lowering their bids as they have sufficient stocks, sources said Friday. Platts assessed battery-grade lithium carbonate down $500/mt at $13,800/mt CIF North Asia, for delivery into the main ports in China, Japan and South Korea.

--Ben Kilbey, ben.kilbey@spglobal.com

--Edited by Jonathan Fox, newsdesk@spglobal.com