Electric vehicles, which are deemed to be decisive for sustainable transportation, are currently powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that majorly rely on heavy metals like cobalt and nickel.
These metals are not only difficult to mine but also their global reserves are depleting to meet the imminent boom in electric vehicles. Against the backdrop, developing alternative battery technologies is quintessential for the automotive industry to meet the growing need for sustainable transportation, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.
Archi Dasgupta, Director of Disruptive Tech at GlobalData, comments: “Lithium-ion batteries are extremely expensive and account for a major chunk of the electric vehicle production costs. Therefore, startups and tech companies are competing to develop alternative batteries such as solid-state, lithium-sulfur and rechargeable seawater batteries (SWBs) that are environment friendly with increased energy density and heightened safety. Although these batteries have the potential to boost zero-carbon transport, most of them are in different stages of exploratory research indicating that their commercial viability is still far away.”
The Innovation Explorer Database of GlobalData’s Disruptor Intelligence Center reveals how various companies are developing alternative battery technologies to contribute to sustainable transportation.
Solid-state batteries developed using both solid electrodes and electrolytes are environment friendly as they can be recycled and reused, unlike lithium-ion batteries. They have low flammability with a projected energy density of around 500 Wh/kg and are potentially safer than lithium-ion batteries.
Ionic Materials, Sila Nanotechnologies and Solid Power are notable startups developing solid-state batteries. These startups have attracted funding from automotive giants such as Nissan, Mitsubishi, Renault, Daimler and Hyundai to monetize their technologies.
Lithium-sulfur batteries are relatively light in weight and are cheaper compared to lithium-ion cells due to the use of sulfur. Moreover, the theoretical energy density of these batteries is nearly 2600 Wh/kg, one of the highest in battery technologies. The extraction methods of sulfur make them more sustainable than lithium-ion batteries.
UK’s OXIS Energy developed a prototype lithium-sulfur battery in partnership with Imperial College London, Cranfield University, and Ricardo. It is made up of sulfur-based cathode materials, stable electrolyte systems, and an anode made of lithium metal and intercalation materials.
IBM developed a new type of battery using materials extracted from seawater that is free of cobalt, nickel, and other heavy metals. It has high energy density and is much easier and cheaper compared to mining heavy metals.
Other alternatives to lithium-ion batteries include gold nanowire, graphene, and foam batteries, most of which are in proof of concept stages.
Animesh Kumar, Director of Automotive Consulting at GlobalData, says: “Governments across the globe are promoting the EV agenda and battery charging infrastructure is growing steadily. For the high uptake of EVs, it is crucial for the stakeholders to reduce the vehicle acquisition cost as well as the overall cost of ownership. Solid-state batteries have higher energy density, quickly charge, less costly and last longer as compared to the lithium-ion equivalent. Global OEMs are already in the battlefield over the development of new battery technology and solid-state batteries offer significant opportunities to win the EV market in near future.”
Mr Dasgupta concludes: “The sustainability of existing lithium-ion batteries has become a looming threat, which not only helped startups to attract major investments but also forge partnerships with automotive giants to fast-track the commercialization of alternative battery technologies. The future of batteries is expected to be an area of interest for automakers globally and with the shift towards electric vehicles, this will become more pertinent. Looking beyond automotive, the entire energy marketplace is undergoing a systemic change and the increased use of renewables will drive the need for more alternative battery technologies.”