October 18, 2022

Are solid state batteries the holy grail of 2030?

That’s a question asked by certification body DNV (which is active in renewable energy) in an article that goes over some of the problems with Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) batteries, which represent 95% of the batteries currently in use worldwide. There are issues with battery fires – which has of course led to airline battery luggage regulations. And mining strains the cobalt reserves in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which leads to environmental and labour concerns.

Looking at aviation in particular, there’s the battery weight/range issue around lithium batteries.

Electric batteries can only power an aircraft for a limited range before an increased weight makes the flight impractical, which is why most electric aircraft projects are hybrid-electric where a turbine engine works together with a battery-powered motor.

Solid state batteries overcome many of these problems. Most importantly, they have the potental to have two to ten times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries of the same size.

As a result, the news coming out of NASA last week is positive.

NASA is working on a solid state battery project as part of its aviation net zero programme – SABERS (Solid-state architecture batteries for enhanced rechargeability and safety) and has reported that it has exceeded its initial goals.

The team announced that it had created a solid state battery capable of powering objects at double the capacity of an electric car.

According to NASA, “A solid-state sulfur-selenium battery is cool to the touch and doesn’t catch fire. It has a slimmer profile than lithium-ion batteries and has better energy storage.”

We were told recently that an electric aircraft on a heavy daily rotation might well have to have its batteries replaced every six months, so along with extending the range, a solid state battery has definite advantages here.

SABERS is still only at the experimental stage, but given that NASA is supporting and incubating it, it would seem to hold a lot of promise.

(Top image via NASA)

One company which might welcome the development of solid state batteries is Eviation.

The company won plaudits last month for the successful test flight of its ‘Alice’ electric aircraft, which is an all-battery (not hybrid-electric) plane.

However, Eviation had reduced the published range of the Alice from 400 to 250 nautical miles. And the aircraft that did the test flight at the end of September can’t reach even that distance.

Quoted in the Seattle Times, CEO Greg Davis said that the design in place now is not the one that the company will build later.

According to the Seattle Times, “Eviation needs still-to-be-developed advances in battery technology to make its planes commercially viable.”

In other words, the batteries to give the Alice a 250- or 400-mile range don’t yet exist.

This caused quite a lively discussion today on LinkedIn, when Tecnam Aircraft head of R&D Fabio Russo, published a post saying that he’d probably never post about Eviation again, after reading the Seattle Times piece.

Russo said that it was as if the hull of a Nimitz Aircraft carrier had been built in the 1800s, when ships were powered by sails, in the hope that sooner or later, propellers, engines, and aircraft would be developed.

A number of comments in response however supported Eviation, with the point being made that the company was probably trying to develop something as close to certification as possible, where a more powerful battery could then be easily swapped in later.

(Eviation is featured in our nextgen aviation report, which you can download for free here).

(Above image via Eviation).

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