Chinese battery giant Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd (CATL), on 19 April unveiled a condensed matter battery that it said could supply enough energy to power electric passenger aircraft for civil aviation use.
The cutting-edge battery technology offers an energy density of up to 500 watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg), CATL’s chief scientist Wu Kai said during a presentation at the Shanghai auto show.
Based in the Chinese coastal city of Ningde, the CATL thinks this is a significant achievement, which breaks the limits that have long restricted the development of the battery sector and will open up a new scenario of electrification centering on high level of safety and light weight.
Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) have revolutionized the portable electronics industry and empowered the electric vehicle (EV) revolution.
Unfortunately, traditional LIBs are approaching its physico-chemical limit. The demand for higher density (longer range), high power (fast charging), and safer EVs has recently created a resurgence of interest in other cell chemistries.
The technology, which CATL calls a condensed state battery, uses a “highly conductive biomimetic condensed state electrolyte” which explains the battery name.
The condensed electrolyte creates a “micron-level self-adaptive net structure” that increases the efficiency of lithium ion transporting while boosting stability of the microstructure.
Furthermore, CATL’s condensed battery features ultra-high energy density cathode materials, innovative anode materials, separators, and manufacturing processes, to get it to the record energy density.
With up to 500 Wh/kg per single cell, the “condensed battery” will be the battery with the highest energy density till date when it enters mass production later this year.
For comparison, the Tesla-designed 4680 cell – so named for its external dimensions (46mm diameter, 80mm length) boast 272-296 Wh/kg, which are considered among the best in the world
Similarly, CATL’s most recent battery, “Qilin” which is named after a legendary creature in Chinese mythology has an energy density of 255 Wh/kg and can power an electric vehicle for 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) on one charge.
Condensed matter technology is being embraced by battery makers competing to develop new materials to improve energy density of the current generation of lithium-ion batteries, which is under 300 Wh/kg.
For now, CATL is envisioning two versions of its Condensed Battery – one for electric planes and one for automotive applications.
CATL will be able to start mass production of the condensed battery for electric vehicle uses later this year, Wu said during the presentation.
The world’s largest electric car battery maker claims the new batteries are lighter for the same capacity and offer a high level of safety, making them suitable for electrification of passenger aircrafts.
As for the civilian aviation, CATL is cooperating with partners in the development of electric passenger aircrafts whose cells will have to meet “aviation-level standards and testing in accordance with aviation-grade safety and quality requirements“.
This work will apparently take longer to master and the electric plane’s condensed battery won’t be entering mass production this year, except perhaps as a proof of concept and in engineering prototypes.
“The launch of condensed batteries will usher in an era of universal electrification of sea, land and air transportation, open up more possibilities of the development of the industry, and promote the achieving of the global carbon neutrality goals at an earlier date,” said CATL.
CATL claims the condensed batteries offer an impressive charge and discharge performance as well as increased safety.
Although the Chinese battery manufacturer hasn’t disclosed the new cells’ fast-charging capabilities or their endurance in terms of cycles, their technical description suggests faster charging rates than those currently achieved by regular Li-ion batteries.
Also, during the premiere, CATL did not touch upon the costs associated with such high energy density battery. The cutting-edge battery technology typically present considerable challenges for developers, resulting in increased R&D costs. A high price point for batteries would play a vital role in launching a small e-car or electric aircraft since competitive pricing is crucial.
Though a potentially breakthrough technology, the ultimate future of the novel concept will be decided by the materials, cost and market impact.