Volkswagen said Tuesday it has invested another $200 million into QuantumScape, a Stanford University spinout developing solid-state batteries as the automaker bets on a next-generation technology that will unlock longer ranges and faster charging times in electric vehicles.
Volkswagen’s relationship with QuantumScape, which had early backing from Kleiner Perkins and Khosla Ventures, actually stretches back to 2012. The two companies formed a joint venture in 2018 to accelerate the development of solid-state battery technology and then produce them at commercial scale.
Volkswagen made an initial $100 million investment into QuantumScape in September 2018. The additional $200 million aims to accelerate that joint development work, according to Thomas Schmall, chairman of the board of management of Volkswagen Group components, which has end-to-end responsibility for batteries.
The companies have plans to set up a pilot plant for the industrial-level production of the solid-state batteries. Volkswagen said plans for this pilot factory will be “firmed up” sometime this year.
Two years ago, Volkswagen set a target to establish a production line for these batteries by 2025.
Today’s electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries. A battery contains two electrodes. There’s an anode (negative) on one side and a cathode (positive) on the other. An electrolyte sits in the middle and acts as the courier that moves ions between the electrodes when charging and discharging. Solid-state batteries use a solid electrolyte and not a liquid or gel-based electrolyte found in lithium-ion batteries.
Developers claim that solid electrolytes have greater energy density, which translates into squeezing more range out of a smaller and lighter battery. Solid electrolytes also are supposed to be better at thermal management, reducing the risk of fire and the reliance on the kinds of cooling systems found in today’s EVs.
The cost of solid-state batteries has been a difficult hurdle to overcome. Yet the promise of this technology at commercial scale has prompted a number of automakers to pursue it. BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan and Toyota are just a handful of automakers investing in the research and development of solid-state battery technology.