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Lazaro Gamio / Axios

In an unusual statement, Toyota says it is nearing a breakthrough in a type of lithium-ion battery system that has vexed researchers for decades, and that it will unveil a family of electric cars with a jump in currently available range in the early 2020s.

Why it matters: Given the high stakes and risk of embarrassment if something goes wrong, Japanese companies virtually never flag a big tech breakthrough before it is actually produced and delivered to the market. Hence, Toyota's comparatively specific announcement suggests it is reasonably confident that it really has mastered a new battery technology, said Venkat Viswanathan, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

Toyota says its battery is solid state, which is what has piqued the interest of the battery community:

  • If Toyota really has figured out solid state, that would allow the company sometime in the future to make a second big breakthrough — to swap in an anode made of ultra-energetic lithium metal, a substance that researchers have tried without success to get safely into lithium-ion batteries since the early 1990s.
  • The trouble with lithium metal is its volatility — it can catch fire on contact with liquid electrolyte or even the air.
  • But solid state eliminates that problem because it has no liquid.

In a statement to Axios, Toyota said it will commercialize "sulfide system all-solid batteries" that it hopes will have increased durability and improve the range of electric vehicles in which they are installed.

Toyota declined to say whether it's using a lithium metal anode. But solid state is extremely expensive to manufacture, costing hundreds of dollars per square meter, versus the $10 price needed if battery costs are to drop low enough for electric cars to challenge combustion head to head.

Hence, Viswanathan told Axios, even if Toyota's first-generation pure electrics do not start with lithium metal anodes, the company clearly is establishing a pathway to get there. "You need more energy density to bring down the cost," he said.

An electric car with a lithium metal anode would go about 20% further than current technology, or almost 300 miles on a charge, he said. As a comparison, the new Chevy Bolt goes 238 miles without recharging.

Go deeper

Updated 49 mins ago - Economy & Business

Hybrid work now dominates the knowledge economy

llustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, most knowledge workers are in hybrid work arrangements, partly remote and partly in-office, a new survey finds.

By the numbers: 58% said they now work this way, in a survey of around 10,000 knowledge workers from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Japan, conducted last November by Future Forum, a research group backed by Slack.

Rents hit all-time high

Data: Zumper; Chart: Axios Visuals

The national median price of a one-bedroom rental apartment in January was up 12% year-over-year, to $1,374 — an all-time high, per Zumper, an online apartment rental site.

Why it matters: Inflation is taking a bigger bite out of people's paychecks these days not only in food and gasoline, but also in housing costs.

A pandemic victim: Ethical supply chains

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Over the last decade, global companies have put in place elaborate policies to ensure their suppliers protect worker safety and human rights. They're struggling to comply with those policies in the pandemic.

Driving the news: COVID-era disruptions have caused a spike in noncompliance with health and safety rules, according to new data from Qima, which audits supply chains.