China funding bazooka to boost solid-state battery tech

According to news agency Reuters, China is set to invest more than 6 billion yuan (765 million euros) in a government-led project to develop solid-state batteries (SSB). The state funding will be attributed to six companies supporting their work on next-generation battery technology and securing the nation’s lead on the global EV playing field. Belgian Solithor simultaneously announced important progress in its SSB development efforts.

China’s strategy to maintain its pole position in the global electric vehicle market comes after watershed early investments in domestic supply chains, positioning it as the world’s most cost-competitive battery and EV manufacturer.

In a bid to remain ahead of rivaling manufacturers from the West, the nation races towards next-gen cell technology, of which solid-state might be the best option as it promises enhanced safety, longer lifespans, and faster charging compared to conventional lithium-ion batteries, which use flammable liquid electrolytes.

Overcoming production hurdles

The companies selected for the funding are both private and state-owned. These include battery giants CATL and WeLion New Energy Technology, backed by Nio. Other participants are BYD, FAW, SAIC, and Geely, as confirmed by the Reuters source.

Many among those are household names already pursuing pilot projects with solid state. WeLion and Nio together put a commercial car on Chinese roads, the ET7, with semi-solid state technology. Semi-solid cells are considered a bridge, albeit a long one, towards the matured version.

Government resources are undoubtedly freed up to keep its manufacturers ahead of the global competition and to find a way past the hurdles blocking the commercial viability of solid-state cells.

Mass production remains a challenge due to complex upscaling and sensitivity to humidity, which need control in production halls. Expectations are that the innovation will be hampered by expensive go-to-market and will first debut in upper-class models like sports cars and the like.

Solid-state development in Belgium

An important name missing on the Reuters list is that of Tailan, the innovative Chinese start-up claiming a breakthrough in solid-state technology by using ultra-thin and dense composite oxide solid electrolytes. These could result in 2,000 km ranges for EVs. Tailan is one of the few to have disclosed plans and preparatory works for constructing a Gigafactory for solid-state cells, with production slated for 2025.

CATL plans to start small-scale production by 2027, aligning with timelines set by Japanese automakers, who are also exploring the technology despite lagging in first-generation packs—some American start-ups, like QuantumScape, eye production in 2025 as well.

The Solithor lab in Sint-Truiden. /Solithor

Belgian research in solid electrolyte technology received a boost this week. The start-up Solithor from Sint-Truiden announced “huge” progress on its development work in SSBs. In its lab, the first-generation prototype reached a milestone of 500 cycles with a capacity loss of 7%.

This achievement is a crucial stepping stone towards the industry standard of 700 cycles with a capacity loss of a maximum of 20%. The company collaborates with the aviation and maritime sectors.

While Solithor has an exemplary track record for its two years in operations, more experienced pioneers like Quantumscape and Solidpower currently test prototypes at 1,000 cycles (at 95% retention) and an energy density of 800 to 1,000 Wh/l.

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