VW Battery Packs
While scientists and automakers around the world are racing to develop solid-state batteries for electric cars, Panasonic says don't hold your breath.
In an interview, Panasonic North American chief executive officer Tom Gebhardt told Business Insider that the hotly-anticipated battery breakthrough won't make it to production electric cars for another 10 years.
Solid-state batteries—that is, batteries that replace the flammable liquid electrolyte in lithium batteries with a solid-state ceramic material—are expected to eliminate fire concerns, extend the life of batteries, speed charging, and improve capacity.
Several researchers, including those from a consortium of Japanese automakers, as well as the inventor of lithium-ion batteries at the University of Texas, have demonstrated workable solid-state batteries in lab settings.
Gebhardt's reaction, however, is perhaps unsurprising. It's a long way from the lab to the road.
Having a working solid-state battery in the lab doesn't make it affordable or easy to produce in large enough quantities to sell in electric cars. Scientists and engineers still need years to develop the technology into something affordable and easy to produce.
Once they do, it generally takes automakers five years to develop a new car that can use such a new powertrain technology. It may take less time to adapt existing models to new battery packs with new chemistry, but still won't happen overnight.
Others are considerably more optimistic. Volkswagen has announced that it plans to have solid-state lithium batteries on the road by 2025. And reconstituted electric automaker Fisker Inc. says it has plans to introduce solid-state batteries by 2020, with an undisclosed investment from heavy-equipment maker Caterpillar to help develop and produce them.
Panasonic is one of the largest lithium-battery producers in the world, which co-owns Tesla's Gigafactory and supplies all the batteries for Tesla's cars.
Gebhardt says Panasonic is researching solid-state batteries and preparing for their eventual production. In the meantime, he expects electric cars to rely on incremental engineering improvements to existing types of lithium batteries.
"We're still pretty bullish on lithium-ion but clearly understand that solid state is something that we all want to get to at some point in the future," Gebhardt told Business Insider.
Battery engineers have made dramatic improvements in existing lithium-ion battery packs by learning to reduce the need for expensive cobalt and lithium and by redesigning the packs to store more energy with less wasted space and weight. Bloomberg forecasts that prices for contemporary lithium-ion battery technology will fall by 52 percent by 2030.