Every New Year invites predictions about what the next year holds. One in every ten New Years invites predictions about the next decade. 2020 is one of those New Years.
The 2020’s will mark the fourth decade of the advanced battery era, taking as its start the introduction of the first lithium-ion battery into commerce in 1991. The third decade ended on a high note, with the Nobel Committee finally recognizing the important role of Stan Whittingham, John Goodenough and Akira Yoshino in launching the era. The delayed recognition was fitting. It took the world a good three decades to understand fully the power and importance of the technology that Profs. Whittingham, Goodenough and Yushino unleashed.
The fourth decade of the advanced battery era will be less about advocacy and more about doing. The question will not be whether electric power more fully enabled by battery energy storage can replace carbon-based fuels but how soon and how fast. Major vehicle manufacturers worldwide are set to release an avalanche of electric vehicle models into the market by 2025. These are not the plans of starry-eyed idealists. They are the plans of some of the largest and most sophisticated corporations in the world with far better visibility into the state of vehicle technology and the market for it than the general public, the media or any government.
The 2020’s will be the decade of the electric vehicle.
The 2020’s will also be the decade of the advanced battery, more so than the last decade. The anomaly missed by many is that while the cost of lithium-ion batteries fell by about 90% and gravimetric energy density increased significantly, all of these improvements occurred without any real change in lithium-ion battery technology. Almost all of the improvements were attributable to engineering improvements and manufacturing at scale.
The 2020’s will likely see something more, and perhaps several things more. Silicon anode technologies continue to improve. Solving the silicon cycling problem would significantly increase the power of lithium-ion batteries. Solid-state technology continues to come along. A solid or semi-solid electrolyte that could safely permit the use of solid lithium anode material would be a step change in lithium battery energy density. The scientific scuttlebutt is that we are about five years away.
By the end of the decade, we may well see the beginning of the beyond lithium-ion age. Lithium sulfur, lithium-air, sodium-ion and other beyond lithium-ion battery technologies show promise in the laboratory and can theoretically surpass the performance of lithium-ion technologies by a wide margin. Some of these beyond lithium-ion technologies are likely to bear fruit within a 10-year time frame.
And, in addition to the expected scientific progress in battery chemistries, the engineering improvements and manufacturing efficiencies that drove the success of lithium-ion technology in the 2010’s will almost certainly continue.
The 2020’s, the fourth decade of the advanced battery era, will be a great decade for battery technology and a wonderful decade to be in the battery business. Fasten your seat belts, and Happy New Year.