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Chinese battery technology is charging ahead

02/05/2024 by Mark Schneider in Technology

Right now, China is kicking all the goals regarding battery innovation that’s extending electric vehicle (EV) range and reducing charging times. Two Chinese giants, BYD and CATL, are leading the charge (if you’ll pardon the pun) with batteries that threaten to leave Toyota’s solid-state battery plans languishing in the development stage.

BYD has announced that its second-generation “blade” battery pack will be ready to be released as early as August this year. It promises up to 1,000 kilometres of range from a lithium-ion phosphate battery that’s lighter, smaller, and more efficient than its previous batteries. That extended range comes with one caveat — it’s on the “optimistic” CLTC, or China Light-Duty Vehicles Test Cycle. While motorists are unlikely to see that sort of range in the real world, it nevertheless promises an unprecedented anxiety-crushing range in an EV.

“Blade” technology

The Chinese battery and car maker’s “blade” battery puts individual cells into packs in an extremely efficient manner, with half as many battery cells again occupying the same space as competing batteries.

So, BYD’s new “blade” battery will soon be delivering similar performance to Toyota’s solid-state battery, which promises up to 1200 kilometres in range, and a 10-minute charge time. But Toyota’s battery won’t see the light of day until 2027 at the earliest, and it’s probably going to be much later than that. And the problem for Toyota is that BYD won’t be putting its battery development on hold while Toyota is playing catch-up with its solid-state solution.

Nor for that matter will BYD’s Chinese competitor CATL (Contemporary Amperex Technology Limited). It produces 37% of the world’s EV batteries and over 43% of its storage batteries. Its R&D centres around the world employ approximately 18,000 people developing new battery technology. Among other initiatives, CATL is pushing ahead with the development of sodium-ion batteries which replace rare and expensive lithium with the cheaper and more abundant sodium. The energy density of those batteries is now starting to match current lithium-ion batteries and may soon exceed it.

While CATL is also researching solid-state battery technology, its CEO, Robin Zheng, is sceptical about their potential in the near future, citing durability and safety problems, and the fact that right now, they just don’t work well enough. He thinks we’re unlikely to see them in production cars until about 2035.

Semi-solid-state batteries

However, one Chinese start-up, IM Motors, looks to have already taken a great leap forward towards a solid-state battery. IM is part of the huge SAIC group, and its just announced that its L6 Lightyear Max compact sedan (where do they get these names from?) will be available with a semi-solid-state battery as early as next year. Its battery uses solid material suspended in a liquid electrolyte. It has a range that’s estimated at over 1,000 kilometres, and can add 400 kilometres of range in just 12 minutes on an ultra-fast charger.

Back in 2011 Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk laughed out loud at the prospect of BYD as a potential EV rival. He’s not laughing at them these days. With its scale, massive research effort, its technological edge, and its all-in commitment to EVs as the future of motoring, China looks set to dominate the global vehicle industry.

Written by
Mark Schneider

Mark is a successful copywriter with over 20 years of professional writing experience.

We welcome him as a guest blogger to Fleettorque.

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