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Various stages of copper foam substrate becoming a a solid-state battery, at Prieto Battery, on May 16, 2017, in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Photo: Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Volkswagen is considering building a factory in Europe to produce solid-state batteries, a next-generation battery technology, to power its electric vehicles, according to a report from earlier this month. The news comes on the heels of Volkswagen's June investment of $100 million in QuantumScape, a solid-state battery startup.

The big picture: Solid-electrolyte batteries gained prominence in the lab a decade ago, but are just now achieving the cell performance to make the automotive industry take notice, with Volkswagen specifically citing performance demonstration "at automotive rates of power." As the technology develops, there has been a flurry of international development interest: Toyota, Nissan, Dyson and BMW have all made similar investments.

Over the past 30 years, voltage and electrode-capacity increases have improved the performance of lithium-ion batteries and lowered their cost. But at the heart of current lithium-ion batteries is a highly flammable liquid electrolyte — the material that conducts lithium ions between electrodes during charging and discharging. This electrolyte poses an inherent safety risk, which is exacerbated by higher energy density and tighter manufacturing tolerances.

Solid-electrolyte batteries promise to enhance performance without the safety trade-off. In order to be cost-effective, they also require a dramatically different manufacturing system and supply chain, opening up an opportunity for companies that can’t otherwise compete at the scale of the behemoth Asian plants that now produce most of the world's lithium-ion batteries.

What to watch: The business opportunities presented by solid-electrolyte technology, in addition to its safety benefits, have inspired the U.K., the EU and Japan to initiate consortia to capitalize on its economic potential. It remains to be seen whether the U.S. will do the same.

Eric Wachsman is the director of the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute at the University of Maryland and founder of Ion Storage Systems, which is developing solid-state battery technology.

Go deeper

Senate Armed Services chair dismisses Trump threat to veto defense bill

Sen. Jim Inhofe. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters Wednesday that he plans to move ahead with a crucial defense-spending bill without provisions that would eliminate tech industry protections, defying a veto threat from President Trump.

Why it matters: Inhofe's public rebuke signals that the Senate could have enough Republican backing to override a potential veto from Trump, who has demanded that the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Scoop: Uber in talks to sell air taxi business to Joby

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Uber is in advanced talks to sell its Uber Elevate unit to Joby Aviation, Axios has learned from multiple sources. A deal could be announced later this month.

Between the lines: Uber Elevate was formed to develop a network of self-driving air taxis, but to date has been most notable for its annual conference devoted to the nascent industry.

Setting the Biden-era cybersecurity agenda

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Biden administration will face a wide array of cybersecurity challenges but can take meaningful action in at least five key areas, concludes a new report by the Aspen Cybersecurity Group.

Why it matters: Cybersecurity policy is a rare refuge from Washington's hyperpartisan dysfunction, as shown by the recent work of the bipartisan Cyberspace Solarium Commission. President-elect Joe Biden should have a real opportunity to make progress on shoring up the nation's cybersecurity and cyber capabilities without bumping up against a likely Republican-controlled Senate.

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