Toyota Goes All-In on New EV Batteries with Massive Investment, but Will There Be a Game-Changing Impact?

Toyota Invests in Battery Technologies for Electrified Cars but Sees No Breakthrough Soon

Investing in New Batteries

Toyota’s top scientist, Gill Pratt, has confirmed that the company is heavily investing in new battery technologies for green vehicles such as electric and hybrid models. Pratt admitted that it is a high-risk, high-reward research venture and that it is difficult to predict when researchers will find a breakthrough battery technology.

Lithium Ion Composition to Stay

Pratt predicts that the lithium-ion composition currently used in contemporary electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids will be the go-to for another 10 to 20 years until a pragmatic change to other chemistries is made. Toyota will allocate almost $14 billion into battery development through 2030, including ramping up solid-state batteries and next-generation lithium-ion power packs.

Alternative Chemistries Are Not Substitutes for Lithium-Ion

Alternative chemistries such as lithium iron phosphate deployed by some carmakers including Toyota have tradeoffs and are not necessarily wholesale substitutes for lithium-ion according to Pratt. Sodium-based chemistries have lower energy densities due to the sodium molecule’s bigger size than the lithium molecule. Pratt stated that sodium batteries might be better suited to use in stationary power packs.

Lithium is Still the Best Solution for Now

Pratt confirmed that lithium-ion is here for quite some time due to its excellent properties. He said that researchers are unlikely to find something that is dramatically better at the moment. Toyota is still promoting hybrid vehicles since banking on lithium to support electric vehicles is a bigger carbon dioxide emission reduction tactic.

Recycling Lithium Batteries

Recycling lithium coming back to market from batteries in older electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids taken out of circulation should solve the bottleneck. Solid-state batteries offer one pathway to more efficient use of lithium. Solid-state requires about half the lithium of today’s liquid-electrolyte lithium-ion batteries. However, those batteries will take a few more years and may take longer to become mainstream.

Flexible Regulations vs. Overzealous EV Adoption Mandate

While talking about battery assessment, Pratt also warned that overzealous mandates for electric vehicle adoption could backfire and result in worse carbon dioxide emissions than anticipated. Requiring old internal combustion cars to be replaced with EVs will deter some people from buying a new car altogether because they cannot afford the costly EVs. Instead, more flexible regulations and allowing a greater mix of hybrids could help people switch to more efficient gasoline-electric models without breaking their budget. It can also contribute to minimizing emissions, no matter what a customer’s situation is.