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The Future of Mobility – Battery Tech

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The Rise of EVs

When Tesla was founded in 2003, the idea of electric cars was mostly seen as a joke. At that point, every electric car had been essentially a glorified golf cart with poor battery range, low comfort, small size, and very low top speed.

The Tesla Roadster (1st generation, as a new version is expected in 2026) completely changed this perception, with the performance of a luxury sports car, making electric cars (EVs) suddenly cool.

The key part that made EVs suddenly viable was progress in battery technology. At first, this was riding on the back of lithium-ion batteries designed for the small electronic market. And soon, more dedicated systems were developed to give EVs more autonomy.

From a small volume even in 2016, electric cars (EVs) are now an exponentially growing part of global sales, with more than 10 million electric cars sold in 2022, or 14% of global sales, with China and Europe leading the way.

Global EVs sales – Source: IEA

Still, despite this progress, some questions remain open about the adoption of EVs. EV sales have slowed down in the face of high inflation and the need to convince the general public – not just early adopters. This recently led to the postponement or cancellation of EV strategy by major manufacturers, such as GM, Ford, or Honda.

The Current Limitations

Early EV enthusiasts were happy to use vehicles that could be more carbon-neutral and represented a new technology. Less environmentally concerned buyers are still somewhat skeptical of EVs for a variety of reasons:

  • Price: Most EVs still cost more than their ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) equivalent. With interest rates going up, this can make EVs too expensive for many people.
  • Range anxiety: A way to reduce the price of an EV is to pick the smaller battery pack option. But then, lower range can make long trips difficult, and charging time can be long as well.
  • Cold weather: The colder the climate, the more damaging it gets for batteries. Most EVs need to stay charging on winter nights if they are not in a warm garage. Furthermore, cold reduces the theoretical range of EVs.
  • Charging infrastructure: People living in apartments might find it difficult to recharge their EVs if there are not enough public charging stations available. Long queues, slow charging or no stations nearby can make for a poor experience.
  • Battery safety & durability: Lithium-ion batteries pack a lot of energy. And the electrolytes in the battery are very flammable. This makes batteries potentially a safety hazard, especially in closed environments like underground parking. Not that ICE cars are non-flammable, but it is still a concern.
  • Electric grid: While not really a concern for EV buyers, it can become a problem for the sector as a whole. Electric grids are already somewhat strained, and might not handle well millions of vehicles needing recharging. The source of the electricity is also an issue, with a lot of it coming from fossil fuels, including coal.

Most of the issues with current EVs can be solved with better batteries. Slow charging, too low range, safety issues, cold sensitivity, and even price are all characteristics of current lithium-ion batteries.

Researchers and industry leaders are working hard to solve these shortcomings, either by improving the existing design or inventing entirely new ways to build batteries.

Overall, denser batteries mean cheaper, safer batteries that are also more likely to last longer and charge quicker.

Improving Lithium Batteries

The first step is to improve the existing batteries and capitalize on the wealth of knowledge and experience with this technology. Some researchers see the current generation of batteries still able to be incrementally improved until 2030: “Prospects for lithium-ion batteries and beyond—a 2030 vision”.

The first part is to improve the cathode part of the battery, which is currently mostly made of lithium and nickel in lithium-ion batteries. A deeper understanding of the crystalline structure and chemical change when a battery ages could improve all specs of the batteries.

Anodes, currently made of graphite, could be replaced by 5x-10x more energy-dense silicon or silicon oxide. This so far has been difficult, as silicon anodes tend to “age” too quickly. Graphite-silicon mixes are already becoming more common, and they could help boost the batteries’ total energy.

Changing the electrolytes connecting the anode and cathode could also help. New types of liquid solvents, more concentrated electrolytes, or maybe even gel-like electrolytes could improve the safety profile and increase battery density.

Lastly, a better design is an option to optimize the relationship between batteries and EVs. Many EV manufacturers are starting to use so-called structural batteries that are both energy storage and structural components of the vehicle. This can reduce the total car weight, leading to more efficiency and range. Rolls-Royce, Tesla, and Volvo are already working on this idea, which could increase the range by 16%.

Solid State Batteries

Long theorized and slowly made reality in laboratories, solid-state batteries are often described as the Holy Grail of battery technology.

The idea is to entirely remove the need for liquid electrolytes, greatly reducing the weight of the battery and dramatically boosting its density. Removing the flammable electrolyte should make the battery a lot safer. Removing the electrolyte should also simplify the production process; removing up to 3 weeks in the manufacturing line.

Lastly, such designs promise almost full reload in 3-5 minutes, or around the same time it takes to refuel a car with gasoline.

Many companies are talking about launching their own version of solid-state batteries as soon as 2026-2029. This includes QuantumScape (QS), CATL (300750.SZ), Toyota (TM), Panasonic (6752.T), LG (051910.KS), and Samsung SDI (006400.KS). For now, Tesla (TSLA) is working on its own alternative to solid-state batteries, the 4680 battery cells based on lithium-ion technology.

Solid-state Batteries' Issues

Solid-state battery development has been plagued by the difficulties of scaling up laboratory prototypes to mass-manufactured products. Reliable, automated, and low-cost production is still in the works, and the timeline for the arrival to market of solid-state batteries is likely in the 2026-2028 horizon at best.

Lastly, solid-state batteries will use much more lithium than current lithium-ion batteries, something that might cause a repeat of the skyrocketing price for lithium in 2022, when it went up 10x in 2 years. Recycling might also be difficult.

“Condensed” Batteries

Maybe we do not need to wait for solid-state batteries to see very high-density batteries. CATL has announced its creation of a “condensed matter” battery, able to reach 500 Wh/kg. The company also claims the possibility to achieve mass production in a short period of time, which coming from the leader in the sector and not a small startup, is likely credible.

This is a level of density previously believed to be achievable only by solid-state batteries. It is also the level required to start considering electric aircraft and other applications that have so far been impossible to electrify.

Alternative Battery Chemistries

There are many possible alternatives to lithium-ion for creating a battery. But only a few battery chemistries will have the right mix of lightweight, high density, and safety to be fit for use in mobile applications.

In the long run, some of these alternative batteries might even replace the more costly lithium batteries, at least when it comes to the more price-sensitive automotive mass market.

Lithium-Iron(Ferrum)-Phosphate Batteries – LFP

LFP batteries have for a long time been out of mobility applications due to too low energy density, typically 30-40% lower than a classic lithium ion battery. The latest version of this chemistry is now reaching the density level of older-generation lithium-ion batteries, making them viable for low-cost vehicles.

A big advantage of LFP is that they do not require any nickel or cobalt, both responsible for the price of classic lithium-ion batteries. In contrast, iron and phosphate are abundant and cheap. LFP are also more likely to last longer, further reducing the total life cost of the battery system.

The leading manufacturer of LFP is Chinese CATL (300750.SZ), together with BYD (BYDDF), even if the company is now looking at other options to keep its position of manufacturer of half of the world’s batteries.

Nevertheless, it does not neglect the LFP market after the reveal in August 2023 of a 700-kilometer LFP battery that can recharge 400km of range in just 10 minutes.


Besides cobalt and nickel, lithium is the other key costly resource going into lithium-ion. By contrast, sodium is extremely abundant and cheap and much less likely to fall in short supply regularly like lithium.

The leading Chinese car manufacturer, BYD, has announced its intention to use sodium-ion batteries for its new low price models Dolphin and Seagull, with the Seagull maybe as cheap as $10,000 (sadly, only in China).

This followed the announcement of a high-density sodium-ion battery by CATL in 2021. In November 2023, the European Northvolt have announced a breakthrough in sodium-ion, achieving the same 160 watt-hours per kilogram energy density than CATL.

While slightly less energy dense than LFP and much less than lithium-ion, sodium-ion might win the mass market thanks to a MUCH cheaper price, potentially 1/3rd of the price of current batteries using nickel.

Other Chemistries

While it would be too long to look at each one by one, there are quite a few other potential chemistries that might one day become serious contenders for batteries used in mobility applications. But these technologies are at an earlier stage, making their adoption into EVs unlikely in the short term.

Glass batteries

An intriguing idea, using only very abundant materials, that for now, other researchers have been struggling to replicate in their own labs. But considering this idea is supported by Mr. Goodenough, the inventor of the lithium-ion battery, it is not to be dismissed either (sadly, Mr. Goodenough passed away in the summer of 2023)

Graphene batteries

Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms, is extremely conductive. The company Graphene Manufacturing Group (GMG.V) is pushing for graphene/aluminum batteries, which could have a higher density than lithium-ion while charging 70 times faster and last 3x longer. The company is working with mining giant (and graphite miner) Rio Tinto to start production at scale for 2025.

Manganese Hydrogen Batteries

These batteries would use magnesium to replace lithium. This kind of battery has been described as “quasi solid-state” and could handle much better temperatures as low as -22 °C (- 7°F).

Lithium-sulfur Batteries

These batteries would use lithium and sulfur instead of expensive cobalt and nickel. Even at this early stage, they display a remarkably high energy density. They, however, have been plagued by issues regarding durability and will need to become a lot more durable to be a good alternative to existing chemistries.

Sodium-Sulfur Batteries

These batteries had for now, been limited to applications where the battery was kept at high temperatures (300°C). However, new electrolytes preventing sulfur dissolution could remove this requirement. So, it might become a new angle for finding powerful and cheap batteries.

Aluminum-ion Batteries

This technology replaces the lithium anode with an aluminum one. By using a polymer replacement for graphite, these batteries could achieve high storage capacity.


These “batteries” function by consuming aluminum like a fuel, giving the EV using it a higher range than a fuel car (1,600 km per tank), with a far denser energy density than lithium-ion (1,350 W/kg). This makes it also a potential electricity source for electric planes.

The consumed aluminum can then be replaced by fresh aluminum in 90 seconds, and the spent “fuel” is recycled. This technology could also be combined with older EVs to give them back more range.

Currently, the main limit to the development of this technology seems to be that it fails to receive public support, being neither a true battery, a fuel-cell, or hydrogen-based, making it ineligible for support by existing green policies.

Jonathan is a former biochemist researcher who worked in genetic analysis and clinical trials. He is now a stock analyst and finance writer with a focus on innovation, market cycles and geopolitics in his publication 'The Eurasian Century".