When lithium batteries became widely available, it started an avalanche of innovation, largely because they could hold more energy by weight than other contemporary chemistries. Touchscreen smartphones, drones, all-weather laptops, long-range electric vehicles and the first generation of battery-powered aircraft are some of the results.
But more energy storage is always better — you can make things last longer, or weigh less — and manufacturers are always racing to raise the bar for next-generation battery technology. A key metric in the aviation world is specific energy — the amount of energy stored in a battery per kilogram — and CATL says it’s ready to set a new benchmark.
The lithium-based condensed battery was launched at the Shanghai Auto Show on Wednesday, with CATL claiming energy density figures for the bombshell “up to 500 Wh/kg”. The densest cell we’ve seen before comes from Amprius, which shipped 450 Wh/kg a little over a year ago. Meanwhile, the 4680 battery cell in the Tesla Model Y measured about 244 Wh/kg.
CATL said the new battery is innovative in “ultra-high energy density cathode materials, innovative anode materials, separators and manufacturing processes” and uses “highly conductive biomimetic condensed matter electrolytes to build micron-scale self-adaptive network structures that can adjust the inter-chain Interaction force” to improve performance, efficiency and stability.
The company is giving up little at the moment, aside from energy-specific banner numbers. We don’t yet know what these batteries will offer in terms of volumetric energy density or power density. CATL says they will offer “excellent charging and discharging performance and good safety features.”
The company said it has worked with electric aircraft companies to meet aviation-grade safety and quality standards. Obviously, anyone developing an eVTOL aircraft would be very interested if batteries could provide enough power for VTOL operation — but electric fixed-wing airliners would also gain impressive range gains from the technology.
CATL says “mass production of condensate batteries is possible in a short period of time” and indeed, it expects to have an automotive-grade version of the battery in mass production by the end of the year – although we don’t know what we can expect from it specific energy data.
In the past five years or more, we have seen many next-generation battery technologies promising huge density numbers, but very few have made it to the product stage. So it’s good to hear that these are likely to start rolling out in large numbers in the coming months.