26 Jun 18

VW goes for solid state battery with QuantumScape

Lithium ion batteries are commonplace today, but they are believed to be near their full potential. Many are betting big on solid state batteries - like Volkswagen, which will be launching its electric I.D. brand next year.

That is why the German automotive group is making sure it has access to this new battery technology: it is increasing its stake in Californian company QuantumScape and forming a new joint venture.

"We want to accelerate the commercialization of QuantumScape’s solid-state batteries. And we combine forces to leverage Volkswagen’s experience as a production specialist and QuantumScape technology leadership. Volkswagen is thus taking another step toward a sustainable, zero emission mobility for our customers in the future”, said Dr. Axel Heinrich, Head of VW Group Research, who will take a seat on the board of directors of QuantumScape.

Volkswagen will invest $100 million in the US-based QuantumScape and will become the innovative enterprise’s largest automotive shareholder.

A solid future

Solid-state battery cell technology is seen as the most promising approach for the e-mobility of the future. For example, a solid-state battery would increase the range of the current VW E-Golf to approximately 750 kilometers - today, that's just 300 kilometers.

The main advantages over the present lithium-ion technology are a higher energy density, enhanced safety and better fast charging capability. Last but not least, solid state batteries take up significantly less space. A solid-state battery of the same size as a current battery package can achieve a range comparable to that of conventional vehicles. 

While the approach has a lot of promise, advances are slow. No battery supplier has been able to achieve automotive performance yet. Volkswagen successfully tested QuantumScape early-stage solid-state battery sample cells in Germany running at automotive rates of power—an industry first.

European hesitance

Today's lithium ion battery cell market is dominated by Panasonic, LG Chem, CATL and Samsung. Realising that this Asian dependency carries tremendous risks, European OEMs are calling for some European counterweight. None of them has the intention to invest billions in their own Gigafactory. By the time such a factory is operational, lithium ion could already have become obsolete. 

They prefer to put the risk in other company's hands and focus on their core business. Perhaps the initiative could come from an entirely different angle. Last year, bagless vacuum cleaner company Dyson confirmed it is hiring staff in Europe and China to develop a premium electric car, possibly driven by solid state batteries when it is launched in 2020.

Picture copyright: VW, 2018

Authored by: Dieter Quartier