But cheaper prices are not everything, manufacturing is simplified and safety is improved. A Japanese developer who focuses on battery research has come up with a new type of battery that could revolutionise the industry.
Hideaki Horie, who has been working on battery technology since 1990 and led the development of Nissan’s Leaf electric car, discovered how to replace the basic components of batteries to speed up and simplify the manufacturing process.
“The main problem with manufacturing lithium batteries is that we are making devices, like semiconductors,” Horie told The Japan Times. “Our goal is to make the process more like steel production.”
The production of new batteries can be greatly simplified by replacing the metal electrodes and liquid electrolytes normally found in lithium-ion batteries with a resin-based solution. According to Horie, the new method used by Tokyo-based APB Corp. is “simple as buttered toast”.
Lithium-ion batteries are used in almost everything from smartphones to electric cars to airplanes, with Sony first introducing the first units to the market nearly three decades ago. Their functionality and uses have evolved since then, the technology has come a long way and in 2019 the three scientists who developed them won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. According to Nobel committee member Sara Snogerup Linse, lithium-ion batteries have enabled a “technological revolution”.
The next big commercial market for the technology lies in the future of electric aircraft, although the current energy density of lithium-ion batteries is approximately 2 per cent compared to kerosene jet fuel. In any case, larger electric passenger aircraft are already in development, with low-cost airline EasyJet, for example, recently entering into a partnership with electric aircraft start-up Wright Electric, where a prototype is already under construction. One of the key issues with high-performance lithium-ion batteries is safety, as they have caused a number of fires in Samsung smartphones and Tesla crashes in recent years.
“With so many events, security is the most important thing in the industry,” said Mitalee Gupta, senior analyst, energy storage, Wood Mackenzie. “APB’s battery could be a breakthrough in both energy storage and electric vehicle applications, provided the company can grow fast enough.” Earlier this year, APB received an 8 billion yen investment to build a factory for mass production, which could start next year.