Nio’s unveiling of its first luxury electric sedan, the ET7, along with an announcement of a groundbreaking solid-state battery that could be released as soon as next year ignited much interest from investors, sending the company’s stock up as much as 14% on Monday and propelled the carmaker to a market valuation of more than $100 billion.
The Chinese electric vehicle (EV) maker is confident that it will start delivering its new 150 kilowatt-per-hour battery packs from the fourth quarter of 2022, and customers of every Nio model will be able to swap and upgrade the battery.
However, automotive battery experts raised doubts about the probability of the plan, saying that solid-state batteries would not be introduced until 2024 or 2025 based on current developments.
Richard Wang, a senior analyst at the Gasgoo Auto Research Institute, told Pandaily that the new packs would take at least five years to materialize as the biggest battery manufacturers in China are still tackling technical challenges.
“Some of the hardest aspects in making a solid-state battery include innovating and adjusting the lithium components and sourcing raw materials, as well as increasing charging/discharge performance and wide temperature-range operation. Not to mention solving production processing problems,” Wang said.
“As far as I know, China’s biggest manufacturers of battery cells still haven’t made successful breakthroughs in these areas,” he added.
Solid-state batteries are an important next-step for EVs and a number of companies are racing to produce the first electric car with a solid-state battery. Contrary to typical batteries, solid-state packs have no liquid electrolyte and are safer and cheaper to produce while promising a higher range.
Batteries with liquid electrolytes can be slow to charge, freeze up in subzero temperatures and contain flammable material that poses a safety hazard in the event of a crash.
Nio said its 150 kWh solid-state pack will increase its vehicles’ driving range to more than 1,000 km (621 miles) between charges. The company didn’t reveal a cell supplier for the battery, but most speculation has pointed to Chinese battery giant CATL.
China Automotive Battery Research Institute Chairman Xiong Baiqing told Chinese media that solid-state batteries are still far from commercialization.
“Solid-state packs will not be commercialized so quickly. Right now, it’s still very difficult to even produce a prototype. The institute is also conducting our own research development into the technology and we believe it’ll take us more than five years,” Xiong said.
Other experts speculate the packs that Nio is planning to roll out in 2022 could be semi-solid batteries or made with a solid-liquid hybrid electrolyte, according to Chinese tech news outlet 36Kr.
Xu Xingwu, the executive vice president of the High-Tech Research Institute at Gotion High-Tech, China’s third-largest battery manufacturer, told state broadcaster CCTV that solid-state batteries could enter mass production in 2025. In the short run, these new batteries would be applicable in limited scenarios.
Toyota currently leads the solid-state battery patent count, owning over 1,000 related to the technology. The Japanese giant plans to launch its first working electric car prototype with the new battery in 2021, according to Nikkei.
Volkswagen says it will produce its own solid-state batteries by 2025, and Nissan expects a solid-state battery prototype vehicle in 2028.
Tesla’s Elon Musk in September announced that it is developing the means to manufacture its own battery cells, and even mine its own lithium.
QuantumScape, a San Jose-based startup backed by Volkswagen and Bill Gates, said in December it had developed a production-ready solid-state battery with cells that are made of solid and “dry” conductive material. The new battery will be ready to go into production in 2024.
Sales in China of new energy vehicles (NEVs), which include battery electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell cars, are expected to grow 30-40% to around 1.8 million units in 2021, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.
Beijing wants NEVs to account for 20% of its overall auto sales by 2025, and has been offering extensive policy support to the EV sector, including tax subsidies, license plate laws, and registration benefits.