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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

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
22 mins ago - Economy & Business

Why fears of a SPAC bubble may be overblown

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The SPAC surge continues unabated, with 10 new ones formed since Wednesday morning. And that's OK.

Between the lines: There are growing concerns that retail investors are about to get rolled, with smart sponsors taking advantage of dumb money.

Schumer says Senate will stay through weekend to vote on COVID relief

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) of going to "ridiculous lengths" to show his opposition to a COVID relief package widely supported by the American public, after Johnson demanded that the entire 600-page bill be read on the Senate floor.

The state of play: Johnson's procedural move will likely add 10 hours to the 20 hours already allotted for debate, during which Republicans will propose amendments to force uncomfortable votes for Democrats. Schumer promised that the Senate will stay in session "no matter how long it takes" to finish voting on the $1.9 trillion rescue package.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

What central bank digital currencies mean for crypto

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Central bank digital currencies, or CBDCs, represent the ultimate ratification of digital finance: Its adoption by the most venerated guardians of the international monetary architecture.

Why it matters: Crypto-evangelists often talk about CBDCs in awed terms. But it's far from clear that the bitcoin-and-ethereum crowd would ultimately benefit from money going digital.

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