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Experts urge battery companies to embrace next-gen technology

By Cheng Yu | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-27 08:20

China-made battery products on display during an auto expo in Munich, Germany. [ZHANG FAN/XINHUA]

Since the emerging solid-state battery technology could offset Chinese vehicle battery companies' existing lead in power batteries, they should be wary and embrace the new technology as well, said industry experts.

Technologically advanced countries are betting big on the potentially game-changing solid-state battery technology, which could give them a lead in the next round of global competition in the electric vehicle or EV segment of the automotive industry, they said.

"China is a pioneer of power batteries, but given the disruptive potential of the all-solid-state batteries, the country has risks (like being left behind by other countries pioneering new technologies)," said Ouyang Minggao, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a Tsinghua University professor.

Currently, China leads in power batteries, including lithium-ion ones, which are widely used in EVs. Compared with lithium-ion batteries that use liquid electrolytes, solid-state batteries use solid electrodes and boast higher theoretical energy density and safety.

Solid-state batteries can be categorized into semi-solid-state and all-solid-state types. Some Chinese companies are on the way of commercializing semi-solid-state batteries and doing R&D on all-solid-state ones.

Ouyang said: "China should maintain a strategy of developing more semi-solid-state batteries gradually while preparing for significant disruptions from the adoption of all-solid-state batteries."

Agreed Chen Qingtai, chairman of the China EV100, a think tank. "For China to maintain automotive power and lead globally in the coming decades, the research and development of solid-state battery technology and mass production have become key."

According to Chen, the solid-state battery technology is seen as the most promising next-generation battery technology worldwide. In this arena, Japan, South Korea, Europe, the United States and other leading markets are accelerating R&D and layouts over the medium to long term.

"Thus, it is very necessary to objectively understand the characteristics of all-solid-state batteries and increase R&D investment in a targeted manner," Chen said.

According to a report of CITIC Securities, by 2025, the overall global penetration rate of solid-state batteries will be about 1.7 percent, and shipments will reach 38 gigawatt-hours globally.

Currently, China, Japan and South Korea are competing fiercely in the global battery market. Japan, which has dedicated its national efforts to developing solid-state batteries since 2018, is currently the country with the highest number of related patent applications.

Toyota also set a target last June for commercializing such batteries as early as 2027. The Japanese firm now has received more than 1,300 patents in the field of solid-state batteries.

In comparison, the total number of patents that Chinese battery companies have in the field of all-solid-state batteries is less than 100 as of October 2023. Guangzhou Automobile Group Co, the leader of the domestic pack, has announced plans to install self-developed all-solid-state batteries in vehicles by 2026.

Ouyang said: "The industrialization of all-solid-state batteries in China still faces a series of scientific problems, which need to be solved from different levels, including key materials, interfaces, composite electrodes and single cells.

"At present, the research and development of all-solid-state batteries in China do not have a unified understanding. The industry, academia and research groups are not coordinated either. It is necessary to join forces to establish a collaborative innovation platform to jointly drive breakthroughs on such technologies."

At a conference earlier this week, Miao Wei, former minister of industry and information technology, highlighted that Chinese companies should develop solid-state batteries. He emphasized that developing such batteries requires a balance between technological advancement and economic feasibility.

Miao said: "During the development process, it is necessary to give full play to the role of the market mechanism and the role of the government. The industrialization of solid-state batteries is most important to be achieved by car companies. Cost-effectiveness is the only choice for battery companies to win the trust of car companies."

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