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

11 mins ago - Podcasts

The child care tax on America's economy

Child care in the U.S. is in crisis, which makes it much harder for the American economy to recover — as providers struggle to stay in business and parents wrestle with work.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the problems and what can be done to solve them, with Vox senior reporter Anna North.

Viral load is a puzzle in COVID-19

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

How sick a person gets from a virus can depend on how much of the pathogen that person was exposed to and how much virus is replicating in their body — questions that are still open for the novel coronavirus.

Why it matters: As people try to balance resuming parts of their daily lives with controlling their risk of COVID-19, understanding the role of viral load could help tailor public health measures and patient care.

Updated 47 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 4 p.m. EST: 32,048,333 — Total deaths: 979,454 — Total recoveries: 22,025,324Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 4 p.m EST: 6,962,333 — Total deaths: 202,467 — Total recoveries: 2,670,256 — Total tests: 97,459,742Map.
  3. Health: Cases are surging again in 22 states — New York will conduct its own review of coronavirus vaccine.
  4. Business: America is closing out its strongest quarter of economic growth.
  5. Technology: 2020 tech solutions may be sapping our resolve to beat the pandemic.
  6. Sports: Here's what college basketball will look like this season.

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!