From your everyday smart device to energy storage facilities, lithium-ion batteries of all sizes are just about everywhere. But over the last few years, one market trend has been driving this sector like never before: the rise of the electric car.
Sure, electric cars aren’t exactly crowding the streets, whereas smartphones are in the pockets of billions of people around the world. Nevertheless, even with a marginal market penetration, the battery needs of electric vehicles are so huge they are already changing the game. “Just think that to power a smartphone, a battery weighing only few grams is sufficient,” explains Daniel Gloesener, Global Technical Leader at Solvay’s Advanced Energy Storage Solutions. “But for an electric car, you need a battery that is 10,000 times more powerful! So in terms of business volumes, that market is already larger.” “This evolution is nothing less than a game changer,” adds Maurizio Gastaldi, Strategic Innovation Director at Solvay’s Advanced Energy Storage Solutions, “especially for solution providers like Solvay.”
The need for autonomy
Whether to equip future smartphones that could be charged only every couple of days or electric cars capable of rolling for hundreds of kilometers, it’s easy to understand that building batteries with high autonomy is one of the highest priorities in this field.
The technology of lithium batteries is probably best suited to meet that challenge. They appeared in the 1980s, progressively replacing their nickel-based predecessors, with a strong pull from the explosion of smart devices starting in the 2000s. As for lead-based batteries, they are still widely used in the traditional automotive market, as they represent an inexpensive solution. For everything else, lithium-ion is the preferred solution today, thanks to its higher energy density.
With lots of research and development going on, many solutions on the market and a string of Business Units involved, Solvay is a key player when it comes to batteries, capable of making a difference in areas where they are a crucial issue, such as sustainable mobility. The Group started by offering specialty polymers as binders for electrodes,and coating for separators then it went further in expanding its portfolio that includes many different ingredients present in electrolytes – the liquid between the anode and the cathode – like conducting salts, additives and fluoride-based solvents. “Solvay masters fluorine chemistry, which is very particular,” says Francine Delplanque, Director of Research & Innovation at Solvay’s Special Chem Global Business Unit. “Not many players do.”
As battery voltages get higher, fluorinated materials are used for the safety they provide, because of their unparalleled electro-chemical stability. “Solvay can also bring novel solutions at battery module and pack level with its specialty polymers and composite-replacing metals, along with innovative liquids for battery cooling system”, adds Chuanqi Tao, Battery Business Leader at Solvay’s Specialty Polymers GBU.
As these materials are key elements in improving the performance of batteries, Solvay is in a central position to collaborate with battery manufacturers and work with them to answer today’s market needs. “Estimations for market growth were all lower than reality, which is rare,” explains Richard Thommeret, Communication Director at Solvay’s Research & Innovation department. “Today, car manufacturers are afraid of not having sufficient supply for their batteries. Battery manufacturers are investing massively, like Tesla with its Gigafactories, while China’s electric car policies are driving the market.”
In such a context, Solvay is emerging as a leading supplier of enabling technologies for today’s and tomorrow’s batteries and its presence in the market can grow much bigger over the next few years: “Chemistry will truly matter in producing safer, affordable and more performing batteries”, says Maurizio. What’s more, solid-state batteries are bound to establish themselves as one of the leading technologies in the future, and Solvay is joining partners along the value chain to accelerate their development within the Europe-wide alliance with SAFT, Umicore, Manz and Siemens. While the market for batteries is historically dominated by Asian manufacturers, companies are federating their efforts to develop a European battery supply chain with strong support from the EU commission and Member States.
It looks like the future of batteries is positively electric!