Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer Nio is bragging about a semi-solid state battery that can power a 1,044-kilometre road trip, after the company’s CEO demonstrated the product in a 14-hour livestream.
By covering such a long distance, William Li showed how the battery would help overcome the range anxiety often cited as a key obstacle to widespread EV adoption, reports Car News China.
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Along with a co-driver, Li steered the Nio ET7 large sedan down China’s east coast from Shanghai to Xiamen. Excluding stops and breaks, the trip took 12.4 hours and used Nio’s autonomous driving system 92% of the time. The EV traveled at an average speed of 83.9 kilometres per hour, with an average energy consumption of 13.2 kilowatt-hours per 100 kilometres.
The 150-kWh semi-solid state battery (SSB), which had 3% charge remaining at the end of their trip, was created by Beijing battery maker WeLion New Energy Technology and first unveiled at an event three years ago.
Nio expects to begin mass production in April 2024, with the battery expected to cost around ¥298,000 (C$57,190), or roughly as much as an entire Tesla Model 3.
The batteries Nio currently offers for its EVs include 75- and 100-kWh options that use standard liquid electrolytes. Despite the different capacities, the batteries share the exact same dimensions and can be swapped out and used interchangeably in Nio vehicles.
Nio uses this battery swapping capability to overcome the long charging times that are another key reason customers hesitate to buy EVs. In China, customers can buy a Nio without a battery, then subscribe to a battery service for a monthly fee. Not only does this help keep the car affordable amid high battery costs, but it also allows drivers to avoid the long wait for charging by simply swapping the battery out at a service centre—a process that takes five minutes. That means most drivers who don’t actually need to cover 1,000 kilometres at a stretch can subscribe to a lower-capacity power source and upgrade for longer one-off trips.
Other companies have tried battery-swapping strategies in the past and failed, like the Better Place initiative that tried it in Israel. Curran Crawford, executive director of the Accelerating Community Energy Transformations initiative at the University of Victoria, said battery swapping on a large scale faces significant barriers.
For one thing, swaps must take place at designated service centres, and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) would need their own proprietary swapping stations. Battery swapping would therefore “require significant physical infrastructure for the mechanics of swapping a pack out versus just plugging in, as well as a huge challenge of getting OEMs to agree on a battery pack physical layout,” Curran told The Energy Mix.
Battery-swappable design would also challenge manufacturing, by constraining the design of vehicle structures if battery packs were to be made as structural elements. And the benefits of battery swapping are likely to become less important, Curran added, as emerging technologies deliver batteries with shorter charging times and longer ranges.
But to facilitate the process across the industry in China, Nio is leading a battery swap alliance that just added two new Chinese automotive companies, reports CNEV Post. Through the alliance, the companies say they will work together to “carry out in-depth strategic cooperation in battery standards, battery swap technology, and battery swap service network construction and operation.”
Crawford said Nio’s alliance might have more success developing its battery swapping strategy than companies in North America would, due to China’s higher population density—which would increase proximity of demand, while also making overnight charging more difficult in “megacity” settings. China’s regulatory environment is also quite different from North America’s, where approval timelines can become an epic obstacle.
But ultimately, he said, “I think its going to be really hard to get costs down on the swapping stations to make it work.”