The Development and Competition Tendency of Solid-state Batteries

Someone once vividly summarized the development road of China’s power batteries: the lithium battery was invented by Americans, commercialized by Japanese and developed by the Koreans, our Chinese made it the cheapest and promoted to the world. China currently has two major industries that dominate the world, one is photovoltaic batteries and the other is power batteries. The key of these two industries’ global popularity is extremely cost-effective, that is, products with the same performance, made in China are cheaper, because the whole industry chain has been localized. Survey data from Japan's Yano Institute of Economic Research (YRI) shows that among the 4 core components of lithium batteries, Chinese companies account for 60% to 70% of the global market. China's lithium-ion battery materials are not only cheap, but also of the same quality as the industry leaders in Japan. In this regard, SUMITOMO Chemical executives have a deep understanding, because after Chinese rivals catch up, it will drive prices down sharply, causing the price of power batteries to plummet, falling below the cost line that Japanese companies can’t reach, and ultimately consolidating their market position, which will be the most difficult for Japanese enterprises.

Although Japan has fallen behind China and South Korea in the competition of power batteries, we still need to take a clear view of Japan's "backwardness". Although Japan's power battery has a small market share now, it still has considerable strength in terms of accumulation of research and development experience. R&D in the field of battery materials requires time and funds to settle and accumulate. In this regard, Japan has a first-mover advantage because it is the originator of lithium battery industrialization. Japan is a veritable battery material powerhouse, compared with China, South Korea and the United States, Japan has been ahead of time in the research and development of lithium ion power batteries for about 30 years and had a large number of technical patents. According to the European Patent Office and the International Energy Agency (IEA), in the TOP 25 ranking of battery technology-related patent applications from 2000 to 2018, Japan accounted for 13 seats, ranking first, and the total number of patents also won the championship. In other words, Japanese companies have this background in battery materials, Chinese companies want continue to advance in the existing power battery field, they will inevitably cooperate with Japanese companies and obtain authorization from Japanese companies. Typical example likes Japan's TEIJIN and Shanghai SEMCORP signed an authorization contract for lithium-ion battery separator coating technology in 2019. Another factor that may cause changes in the industry is the technological iteration of power batteries. The current power battery is a lithium-ion battery the biggest disadvantage of this type of battery is easy to burn, and the safety issue has become a top priority. The perfect alternative to lithium-ion batteries is all-solid-state lithium batteries, which will be the focus of the next round of competition in the industries of various countries. Japan, which has various advantages in the research and development of lithium-ion battery technology but has not made good use, has placed a heavy bet on all-solid-state lithium batteries, hoping to turn the tide on the power battery card game. In 2018, Japan gathered 23 leading companies, such as TOYOTA and Panasonic, etc, to develop the core technology of all-solid-state lithium batteries. This action was called "the power of Japan" by Japanese media.

Japan plans to achieve results before 2022, and it’s difficult to conclude whether it will be skipped now, but there are a lot of patent gains. On the TOP 15 list of all-solid-state lithium battery patents announced by Japanese media, Japanese companies occupy 11 seats, the top 5 are all Japanese companies. If Japan really makes a breakthrough in mass production technology of all-solid-state batteries, it will most likely reverse the current pattern of power batteries dominated by China and South Korea. In January 2021, NIO, one of the new car forces, announced the first solid-state battery with a capacity of 150kWh and a range of 1,000 kilometers. And it will be scheduled to be delivered in the fourth quarter of 2022. Although it was only a PPT plan, the A-share lithium battery sector suffered a heavy setback. The share prices of many lithium battery companies fell to a limit. This shows the lethality brought by technological iteration to the industry. The power battery war is far from over, and it will be continued. The winner will not only rely on low cost, but also have the support of technology research and development.

The R&D Technology Center of PLB will closely follow the frontier trend of lithium battery technology and carry out a forward-looking layout for solid-state lithium battery. At present, breakthrough progress has been made in laboratory technology.

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