Car manufacturers and environmentalists alike are keeping an eye on Sakti3, a four-year-old startup that is commercializing high performance solid state batteries. The company was recently named a company to watch in a top-10 list of most important emerging technologies published by MIT Technology Review. The company's goal is to eliminate the parts of an electric car's battery system that don't actually store energy, including cooling devices and internal supporting material in battery cells. These parts account for more than half the bulk of a typical lithium-ion-based system, according to the report in Technology Review.
What Sakti3 is working on is a battery that could eventually be one-third the size of conventional lithium-ion batteries:
[The company's] solid-state batteries are still based on lithium-ion technology, but they replace the liquid electrolyte with a thin layer of material that's not flammable. Solid-state batteries are also resilient: some prototypes demonstrated by other groups can survive thousands of charge-discharge cycles. And they can withstand high temperatures, which will make it possible to use materials that can double or triple a battery's energy density (the amount of energy stored in a given volume) but that are too dangerous or unreliable for use in a conventional lithium-ion battery.
It is estimated that cutting the size of a battery system in half could cut its cost by as much as half, according to the report. This would dramatically affect the cost of electric cars, since the battery is the most expensive component.
To make solid state batteries a reality, the company has come up with simulation software to identify combinations of materials and structures that will yield compact, reliable high-energy devices. These simulations are precise enough to accurately predict how different combinations will behave when assembled together in a battery cell.
The article reports that while it may be several years before the batteries come to market, GM and other major automakers, such as Toyota, have already identified solid-state batteries as a potentially key component of future electric vehicles.