Automotive industry looks to further in-house battery development

02 August 2018

2 August 2018

Volkswagen Group (VW) is looking to produce its own solid state battery cells as it looks to secure supply of the new technology.

Solid state batteries offer manufacturers a longer range and reduced charging time, which would allow electric vehicles (EVs) to compete with petrol and diesel counterparts. While the technology is in an early stage of development, a number of other car manufacturers are researching the viability.

“We must not make ourselves dependent on a few Asian manufacturers in the long term,” VW Group CEO Herbert Diess said following the company’s financial results presentation. He added that advances in ceramic separators had raised the viability of mass production of solid state batteries.

Currently, the European automotive industry sources most of its EV components from Asian suppliers, including the batteries that are at the heart of all electric vehicles. With manufacturers dependent on this supply, there are fears that the market could suffer if suppliers increase prices or are unable to gather together materials.

Therefore, carmakers are attempting to bring battery development in-house. Volkswagen would be joining Toyota in developing solid-state batteries, while the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance believes it can bring cars to market using the technology by 2025.

The UK is also looking to ensure it becomes a leader in solid-state battery development, with research at the Faraday Institute being funded as part of a £42 million (€48 million) fund to ensure the UK can compete on the electric vehicle stage.

Standard development

Meanwhile, Korean manufacturer Hyundai is looking to build its own battery cells for electric vehicles, rather than rely on a third party. The company is currently purchasing its battery cells from LG Chem and SK Innovation.

The carmaker is planning to build several production lines at its research facility in Euiwang and has hired a number of battery development and production researchers since the beginning of 2018. Equipment contracts for the lines have also been awarded to several manufacturers.

BMW is also supporting Chinese firm CATL as it looks to establish a battery factory in Europe. The manufacturer is also the first overseas company to get a chance to invest in the technology company, should it decide to sell shares in China or abroad, according to a statement. Such a move would give the German carmaker closer ties and more control over development for its vehicles.

Tesla is also talking to the governments of Germany and The Netherlands to find a suitable location to build a European Gigafactory. CEO Elon Musk said in June that he favours Germany: “Perhaps on the German-French border makes sense, near the Benelux countries,” Musk had said on Twitter.

Tesla’s battery cell supplier Panasonic has said it is aiming to develop automotive batteries without using cobalt.

The development of electric vehicles will require high levels of cobalt for batteries, and with a growing market and manufacturers pushing their plans to get vehicles on the road quickly, the issue of supplies of the material has caused problems for some. Additionally, prices of cobalt have multiplied as demand increased.