IMEC: ‘Break-through in solid state battery’
Flemish research centre IMEC from Louvain has developed a prototype of a solid state battery, where the conductor starts as liquid but becomes a solid material. The researchers claim a break-through, a “first step towards the super battery” with twice the capacity of today’s lithium-ion batteries.
In battery country the search for lighter, more performing and cheaper batteries is the holy grail. Many companies are doing research, car manufacturer Toyota, for example, has announced a production ready solid state battery for 2020.
What’s so spectacular in this new battery? “What we developed is the first step toward a super battery”, explains Philippe Vereecken, program leader and head researcher at IMEC, “today electric cars use ‘wet’ lithium-ion batteries, wet because the electrolyte, the conductor, is a liquid.”
“For years now, researchers try to have a solid electrolyte”, he continues. “It offers more energy, better conductivity and better reliability, a longer life span and better charging capacity. The technology is difficult because a fluid conductor creeps into every tiny hole, a solid electrolyte can’t, unless it starts as a liquid and becomes solid afterwards.”
When fluid becomes solid
Worldwide everybody is looking into this technology, the advantage of the IMEC battery is its speed. “We use a liquid electrolyte and transform it into a solid one afterwards”, says Vereecken. “Our technology makes us five times faster than other existent solid state batteries.”
Because there is initially a fluid the existing production processes don’t have need to change significantly, that’s why Japanese battery giant Panasonic is interested and cooperates in the project.
While electric cars have a range of 300 to 400 km today, Vereecken reckons this will be 600 with his battery. Additionally charging time (quick charging), which lasts an hour or two at the moment, will be reduced to ten minutes.
“Still, this is an evolution, no revolution”, stipulates Vereecken. “We’re still working with lithium-ion, you can’t be much more compact anymore and the price stays almost the same. For a real, exponentially more powerful and hopefully cheaper battery we’re looking for a breakthrough in materials, like what happened when we began using lithium beginning of the nineties.”