Batteries: Take-aways from the first day of Detroit’s Battery Show

The Battery Show 2019 kicked-off on Tuesday 10th in Novi, Detroit, with more than 9,000 attendees. Exhibitors this year included global automakers, cell makers, parts suppliers, equipment manufacturers, recyclers, research companies, and government representatives.

Of particular interest for the future of the industry were solid-state battery developers, a number of which attended the show to present their products and specifications. While promising progress has been made, the consensus among most delegates was that these batteries are still far from reaching commercial phase. This was especially true for EV applications for three reasons: 

  • Firstly, today’s producers of liquid-electrolyte lithium-ion batteries continue to improve their battery specifications through new cathode coatings, electrolyte additives, silicon additions to the anode, and sophisticated BMS (battery management systems) to control temperature, degradation and performance. 
  • Secondly, there will always be a trade-off of characteristics in an emerging technology. While energy density (Wh/Kg) may improve, power density (W/Kg) may not. Similarly, cycle life (number of charge and discharge cycles) remains very limited and unfit for commercial deployment. 
  • Third, supply chain difficulties are a major bottleneck. Most solid-state batteries rely on lithium metal anodes to increase energy density, however, production of ultra-thin lithium metal foil (<5 microns) remains a technical challenge. Additionally, ultra-thin lithium metal foil production capacity is non-existent despite new electro-deposition techniques.

In this context, some automakers are betting on start-ups using silica-rich carbon anodes as a mid-term solution until solid-state becomes a commercial product. From today’s 3% Tesla-Panasonic silica additions, some companies are working on 15-50% silica-anodes although, here too, there are still a number of issues to overcome before mass commercialisation. Most problems are associated with the high expansion rates of silica which currently degrades the anode if not moderated by a graphite matrix.

In terms of cathode, full deployment to market of nickel-rich chemistries such as NCM 811 could take a long time as end-users remain wary of warranty issues and thermal runaway events.

Manufacturing losses across the electrode and cell supply chain today have a significant impact on raw materials consumption. Specialised electrode equipment companies at the conference argued that different electrode slurry mixing processes yield more cathode or anode mix while reducing losses. According to Buhler, an equipment manufacturer, “batch” slurry mixing methods could result in 1% material losses while “continuous” mixing could only incur as little as 0.05%. Chinese cell producers, however, could currently be incurring material losses of more than 10% as manufacturing problems compound across the cell supply chain.

Roskill also met with several automotive e-powertrain engineers working for reputed North American car makers to discuss current industry focus. These specialists suggest that most automakers are focusing on hybrid powertrain algorithmic improvements to maximize fuel efficiency until fully electric vehicles (BEV) can be mass-produced with better margins. Most automakers envisage electric vehicles to account for a large share of future product portfolios, as otherwise it will be impossible for them to comply with tightening emissions limits.

Roskill analyst Jose Lazuen presented in the Business Lighting Session about the global supply strategies of OEMs to satisfy western battery demand. Jose’s presentation is available upon request.

Roskill’s Lithium-ion Batteries: Outlook to 2028 report was published in April and analyses the major raw material supply chains for this rapidly growing industry. Click here to download the brochure or to access further information.

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This article was written by Jose Lazuen. Please get in touch below if you wish to discuss further:

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