BASF (BASFY), Toyota (TM) and IBM (IBM) are among companies placing sizable early bets on next-generation batteries that could better power things big or small, such as electric cars or maybe wristwatch computers, according to Lux Research analyst Cosmin Laslau. But not for a while.
First the new batteries might get a real-world test powering unmanned aerial vehicles — drones and microvehicles — for the military, he says, as it’s a case where the customer might be willing to pay double for a 10% improvement in power for the weight. Several new technologies could deliver up to 10 times more energy than today’s batteries, Lux Research says in a new report.
The current Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery market is worth north of $10 billion, Laslau says. But for now applications are limited at the small end by how much power output the batteries have for their size — think of how much space the battery of an Apple (AAPL) iPhone takes up. On the big end of applications are electric cars, where the cost of a large-enough battery to provide a useful number of miles in driving range is a limiting factor. Size is an issue there, too.
“When you get to large size like say a Tesla (TSLA) electric vehicle, in order to get the range people want … it might cost $30,000 for the battery alone,” Laslau said.
The report, “Beyond Lithium-Ion: A Roadmap for Next-Generation Batteries,” that Laslau put together with two contributors sees military users as the entry point for next-gen batteries around 2020 and consumer electronics adopting new solid-state batteries by 2030, but it’s a hard sell for next-gen batteries in transportation to unseat Li-ion batteries. Meanwhile, research and other kinds of gains are expected to continue improving those and push down costs.
The next-gen battery types that could be Li-ion alternatives go by names such as Lithium-air, Lithium-sulfur, Solid-state (ceramic or polymer) and Zinc-air. They have different safety and power profiles, with solid-state having a safety edge. Several startups, such as PolyPlus, Sion Power and Oxis Energy, are working on next-gen types, and Laslau says one hard part is translating them from prototype to production. BASF has put $50 million into Sion, he adds.
The report notes that giants such as IBM, Bosch, Toyota and BMW are active in battery research — and the last two recently partnered on it.
Some government-backed battery startups “have failed spectacularly,” Laslau said, with A123 Systems the prime example.
“Now the U.S. has changed tack and put $120 million into Argonne National Lab’s JCESR, the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research,” he said. It will focus on fundamental R&D rather than making bets on startups.
“We think this is a very promising development,” Laslau said, noting that the lab is also partnering “with really well-established companies like Johnson Controls (JCI) that have the expertise to mass-produce any prototypes.” Other partners include Dow Chemical (DOW) and Applied Materials (AMAT).
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