Volkswagen is betting on American solid-state pioneer QuantumScape in the race for the ‘Holy Grail’ of EV batteries, and its European PowerCo daughter just proved their claim that batteries can last for over 500 000 kilometers without substantial degradation.
QuantumScape delivered the first samples of its latest solid-state cells to several partners for in-depth testing a year ago. PowerCo now says the solid-state battery from QuantumScape achieved more than 1 000 charging cycles with still more than 95 percent capacity. So far, 700 cycles and a loss of 20% of capacity have been considered the maximum.
The next big thing in batteries
Solid-state batteries are considered the technology of the future and the next big step in battery development, promising longer ranges of 800 km or more, shorter charging times, and maximum safety. In today’s lithium-ion batteries, ions move from the cathode (positive) to an anode (negative) through a liquid or gel electrolyte.
Solid-state batteries replace the liquid with a solid electrolyte, less prone to heating and fire hazards. QuantumScape’s technology is a patented solid ceramic electrolyte separator that keeps the anode and cathode from touching and moves lithium ions from one side of the battery to the other during charge and discharge.
Three-step sampling stages
This led to a single-layer prototype cell in 2020, followed by 10-layer cells, then a 16-layer prototype, and finally, 24-layer cells delivered as so-called A-samples to its partners in Q2 of 2022. It’s the first of the three-step sampling stages (A, B, and C) for certifying and readying for EV battery production.
Volkswagen has been working with QuantumScape, a Stanford University spin-off based in San Jose, California, since 2012. The German carmaker invested $100 million initially, becoming the start-up’s biggest shareholder, and added an extra $200 million in 2020. Now, its battery-subsidiary PowerCo is conducting the A-cell endurance tests.
PowerCo says the tested solid-state cell consists of 24 layers and thus already corresponds to the planned series cell. The next step on the way to series production is now to perfect and scale the manufacturing processes.
No substantial aging
“These are very encouraging results that impressively underpin the potential of the solid-state cell. The final result of this development could be a battery cell that enables long ranges, can be charged super-quickly, and practically does not age,” says PowerCo CEO Frank Blome. “We are convinced of the solid-state cell and continue to work at full speed with our partner QuantumScape toward series production.”
Volkswagen started building in 2022 its first ‘giga-factory for batteries’ in Salzgitter, Lower Saxony (Germany). That factory marks the roll-out of six planned European battery cell factories under the PowerCo umbrella.
The Salzgitter factory will be capable of producing batteries for half a million cars, with a capacity of 40 GWh, made by 2 500 employees. Manufacturing is scheduled to start in 2025. By the decade’s end, the Volkswagen Group wants to build cells for 200 GWh annually.
BMW targets 2025
Meanwhile, other carmakers aren’t sitting idle. In November 2023, the Denver-based start-up Solid Power announced it had shipped its first solid-state battery cell ‘A-samples’ to German carmaker BMW for formal automotive validation.
BMW is to produce solid-state battery cells in its own pilot plant in Germany based on the design of technology partner Solid Power. A first prototype car with these batteries is expected by 2025.
Toyota aims at 2027
In June 2023, Toyota announced it would offer a production vehicle with a solid-state battery by 2027, up to 1 200 km of range. The company says it has found a breakthrough to conserve the life span of this type of battery, enabling it to move toward mass production.
It estimates that the first solid-state battery will offer 20% more range than the High-Performance battery (around 1 200 km), with a charging time of 10 to 80% in just ten minutes. A later iteration would enable up to 1 500 km of range, but there is no estimated arrival time.