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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

Complaint to FTC: Amazon search results full of potentially deceiving ads

Photo: Nigel Kirby/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Amazon does not sufficiently distinguish between its search results and paid ads, potentially "deceiving millions of consumers," according to a complaint filed to the Federal Trade Commission.

Why it matters: Joan Moriarty, research director for the Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of labor unions that filed the complaint, told the Washington Post the group is "very hopeful" that the FTC will investigate the complaint because Lina Khan (D), a known Amazon critic, is now chair.

3 hours ago - Health

Pfizer-BioNTech: Booster doses more effective at blocking Omicron

Prepared doses of the BioNtech-Pfizer Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine in Germany on Dec. 7. Photo: Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that two doses of their COVID-19 vaccine were significantly less effective at neutralizing the Omicron variant in early lab tests, but a three-dose regimen was more effective.

Why it matters: Omicron, which has been labeled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization after being identified by scientists in South Africa last month, has forced vaccine makers to reassess the effectiveness of their vaccines against this specific new form of coronavirus.

Mike Allen, author of AM
3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden unveils "Building a Better America" branding

President Biden speaks on infrastructure while visiting a bridge in Woodstock, N.H., last month. Photo: John Tully/Getty Images

President Biden today launched a new website and unveiled bold new branding as part of a nationwide tour to sell the benefits of his infrastructure package.

Why it matters: The White House says passage of the new law shows the ability to "forge bipartisan consensus and prove our democracy can deliver big wins" even in these toxic times.

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