Volkswagen e-Up!

Volkswagen Considers Solid-State Battery Packs for Super-Long Range Electric Cars

Despite only joining the modern plug-in vehicle market in late 2013, German automaker Volkswagen now offers four different electric and plug-in hybrid models in various markets around the world, while sister company Audi offers a further three. By 2020, that number is expected to massively increase, with a goal to produce plug-in variants of most popular Volkswagen and Audi models in the next five years.

Volkswagen e-Up

Volkswagen could decide to use solid-state technology in future plug-in cars.

To achieve that, the Volkswagen group has spent some considerable time and money investigating various battery technologies, working with industry leaders to dramatically improve both energy density and lifespan of its existing battery technologies. To date, advances made by Volkswagen in electric vehicle technology has made it not only possible for it to bring the Audi R8 e-tron plug-in sportscar to market, but promise that plug-in hybrids are just a stop-gap measure on the way to 375+ mile electric cars.

Now, says Bloomberg, the German company is in the process of deciding if solid-state battery technology developed by U.S. company QuantunScape Corp. is ready for use in future models.

Founded in 2010 by several Stanford University alumni, QuantumScape has been developing solid-state battery technology which could one day replace traditional lithium-ion battery technology used in most electric cars today.

Unlike conventional lithium-ion batteries which have solid electrodes but a liquid or gel electrolyte, solid-state batteries have both solid electrodes and solid electrolytes. They are burn resistant, do not spill, have a high energy density, and are less affected by changes in temperature than current generation liquid electrolyte batteries. They also tend to have higher ionic conductivity than non solid-state batteries, allowing a low internal resistance, allowing for high power densities.

Volkswagen has spent considerable time and money developing various plug-in models in recent years, including the XL1 limited-production plug-in hybrid.

Volkswagen has spent considerable time and money developing various plug-in models in recent years, including the XL1 limited-production plug-in hybrid.

Backed initially by venture capital firms like Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Khosla Ventures, QuantumScape currently employs around several hundred people at its San Jose-based complex, close to the city’s airport.

In December, Volkswagen acquired a 5 percent holding in the company and has been working with the firm since to expand and develop its solid state technology.

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn, who visited QuantumScape’s headquarters in November, expects VW to make a decision on how to proceed with QuantumScape’s technology within four months.

“I was there last year,” he said. “Progress has been made.”

Volkswagen's e-Golf could theoretically travel 430 miles on a charge with solid-state technology.

Volkswagen’s e-Golf could theoretically travel 430 miles on a charge with solid-state technology.

Even in its current form, QuantumScape’s battery technology is believed to be capable producing a battery pack no larger or heavier than those found in current Volkswagen vehicles yet could yield a range in excess of 430 miles per charge thanks to its superior energy density.

If those theories are proved correct, it could not only provide Volkswagen with a way to leap-frog the competition in the mainstream electric vehicle marketplace, but even challenge automakers like Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA], whose 85 kilowatt-hour luxury Tesla Model S 85 D is currently the longest-range electric car on the market today.

It would also provide Volkswagen with a way to produce electric vehicles with gasoline-like ranges, without resorting to expensive, complicated hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Naturally too, if Volkswagen group decides by July to opt for solid-state batteries in its next-generation plug-in cars, it would also share that technology with the rest of the Volkswagen Group, including Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche and SEAT. If the technology proves itself viable both financially and practically, it’s even conceivable that other non-automotive Volkswagen group brands — Ducati, MAN, Scania and Neoplan — could use the same technology to produce a range of long-range, high performance motorcycles or trucks.

Sadly however, all of our musing is a little premature: as anyone who has worked in academic circles can tell you, there’s a great deal of difference between that laboratory and a commercial product.

For QuantumScape, that’s the biggest challenge between now and July — and we’ll be watching with interest to see what happens next.

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