Chinese company claims it's built batteries so dense they can power electric airplanes
But Dr Rachid Yazami, one of the key minds behind lithium-ion batteries, thinks this could be hot air
The world’s top EV battery maker, China's Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL), announced on Wednesday a battery it believes boasts sufficient energy density to power electric airplanes.
The 500 Wh/kg battery was launched at Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition, also known as Auto Shanghai, with a promise that the company can mass produce the technology “in a short period of time,” or reportedly, later this year.
The Chinese company claims it achieves such high density by incorporating condensed matter technology and new materials that make the system more conductive and thus more efficient at transporting energy.
In this case, that specifically includes highly conductive biomimetic condensed electrolytes that create a miniscule micron-level net structure. The semi-solid-state battery also incorporates new anode and separator materials and cathode materials with ultra-high energy density.
“The launch of this cutting-edge technology breaks the limits that have long restricted the development of the battery sector and will open up a new scenario of electrification centering on high level of safety and light weight,” promised CATL.
The battery-maker said it was cooperating with partners to test and develop the battery for actual use in aviation. It plans to launch an automotive version for mass production, also within the year.
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The 500 Wh/kg battery represents a step change for CATL. It’s first gen sodium-ion battery from 2021 boasted an energy density of 160 Wh/kg. It’s 2022 Qilin battery was 255 Wh/kg, which CATL claimed could power an electric vehicle for 1,000 kilometers on a single charge. Most lithium-ion batteries currently have a typical energy density of around 260 to 270 Wh/kg.
CATL isn’t the first entity to claim it has developed batteries that achieves 500 Wh/kg, the number often cited as the threshold for enabling electric passenger aircraft. Backed by Softbank, Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) announced it had done just that back in 2021.
Energy density matters because batteries are heavy. More energy per kilo means lighter electric vehicles, a desirable quality for cars and trucks but a vital one for planes which have to get off the ground.
Liquid fuels such as petrol boast density of around 12,000 Wh/kg. So even though CATL's latest could catalyze electric planes, they're not going to power vehicles on the scale of a 747 or A380 anytime soon!
The Register spoke to Dr Rachid Yazami inventor of the graphite anode, a key component that enabled lithium-ion battery tech. According to Yazami, batteries are tricky systems and must pass dozens of tests before being approved for any application, more particularly in transportation.
“We should ask CATL to share tests data, including high and low temperature performances, cycle life, calendar life, charging time, safety, and costs,” said Yazami.
"I'd first wait to see if the CATL new battery works in other EVs before considering aircraft," he added. ®