150 kWh Battery Pack Puzzle
Author: DENG Ya/D1EV
Speculations on NIO 150 kWh battery supplier did not start with NIO Day
December last year, on the fourth floor of Sofitel hotel in Haikou, NIO president started a conversation with the media that was not scheduled. The conversation lasted two hours and among many things that the president revealed was also 150 kWh battery pack.
As our colleague, who attended the meetup, recalls, after the conversation finished, several reporters asked NIO to confirm who is the pack supplier, but they did not reply. Later, a NIO engineer said NIO is currently talking to suppliers about technical solution, so the one that can do it, will be the one selected. At the time, everybody thought that this sentence means that it is not certain that CATL is the supplier.
Fast forward to January 10, the second day of NIO Day event. When the media asked about solid state battery, company’s CEO was still cautious. He only said that they are using all their efforts to speed up mass production process and that they have selected the best, the most advanced technology that can be mass produced.
No one could have imagined that the spotlight of the event would move from ET7 to an anonymous battery supplier. The question of who is this mysterious supplier became the first puzzle of 2021 NEV market.
Qingtao pulled out, could it be Solid State Lion?
Several companies that are rumored to be suppliers neither confirmed, nor denied speculations. The only one who immediately denied was Qingtao.
On January 10, Qingtao GM said on his personal microblog that his company does not use in-situ solidification roadmap and that they produce their own oxide solid electrolyte powder.
Not only that, based on information we received, NIO senior director of corporate communications said on his social media account that Qingtao is not the product his company is using.
Since both parties denied cooperation, Qingtao is out of the picture.
What about Solid State Lion?
Based on technical details NIO presented, the solid state battery uses three new processes: in-situ solidification, inorganic pre-lithiation SiC composite anode and nano coating nickel ultra rich cathode.
In one of Solid State Lion reports we received, we can see that in-situ solidification is company’s major development direction. At the same time, pre-lithiation, SiC anode, including LATP nano super thin coating, are all key words in the report. Based on this, Solid State Lion technology perfectly matches the content of NIO presentation.
But this is not merely enough as the state of production capacity also decides if Solid State Lion will become the company on the list.
The report was made at the beginning of 2019 and at the time Solid State Lion said its solid state battery was still in R&D phase. Further, during the visit of former BAIC Group CEO on March 31 2020, Solid State Lion CEO said that they have not yet launched automotive battery products that would be ready for mass production.
Usually, cells need at least 3 years to go from A-sample to B-sample to C-sample and in the end to SOP. In-vehicle tests need at least 15 months. If one wants to install the battery by Q4 2022, mass production would have to start in 2021 and that would mean that A sample tests were completed in 2018.
It seems that Solid State Lion is not the company we are looking for.
Prologium and CATL — Jigsaw puzzle still missing a piece
Now, let us take a look at Prologium and CATL.
Company that has been quite active in the field of solid state batteries, Prologium is indeed cooperating with NIO. In August 2019, the two companies signed strategic cooperation agreement. Based on the agreement short-term goal is to jointly build EV prototype with Prologium’s MAB solid state battery pack.
In 2020, Prologium had two interviews with D1EV.com. During the first one, Prologium said its products will be installed in China in mid-2022 and the product will be VDA590 or 355 with energy density, at that time declared, at 220–230 Wh/kg. This is quite a gap compared to NIO announced 360 Wh/kg.
However, Prologium CEO also revealed that his company is able to make 330 Wh/kg batteries, but since it requires using other lithiation techniques, its price was not commercial, so it was more of a laboratory product.
Afterwards, in November 2020, during the second interview with D1EV.com, Prologium brought the presentation of its latest technology, ASM and CIP. Cell’s new chemistry was NMC811 cathode + 28%SiOx anode. It is still hybrid solid state as cell has less than 4% of colloidal electrolyte. Although CEO did not reveal actual energy density data, he did say that if CIP pack replaced Tesla’s cylindrical battery pack, based on energy density, the range would be 1,159 km.
Based on that, it seems that Prologium matches NIO presentation description. Unfortunately, in-situ solidification is not part of Prologium’s technical roadmap, so we are still missing a piece.
Same thing happened with CATL.
In March 2019, CATL said its R&D team made major breakthroughs in nickel rich NMC and silicon carbon anode by producing 304 Wh/kg battery sample.
Further, Zhiji Auto announced last year that its model will carry silicon doped cells developed in cooperation with CATL. Although its density is 240 Wh/kg, it still enables 1K km range.
From this it can be seen that CATL has a pool of mature technology in SiC anode and nickel rich cathode. However, there were no news on above mentioned in-situ solidification. CATL ’s reply was that their strong R&D efforts, technology pool as well as mass production capabilities are able to help their products stay competitive. It did not provide any precise answers.
Behind the puzzle
Although based on currently available public information, there is not a company that would match NIO presented features, we still might be able to get an answer.
Despite CATL not publicizing any information on in-situ solidification, unlike Prologium, Chinese battery maker did not give a straight negative answer. As one of two major winners in 1.0 war of NEV batteries, CATL established the entire chain of R&D, execution, auto OEM feedback, technology updates. The data and know-how that are gathered in avalanche like style is hard to find in other companies. And when you add cost allocation and production abilities, if there is NIO solid state battery supplier, then that would be CATL. But if that is indeed true, this would mean that the number of companies would be reduced again.
Of course, all this is just a speculation based on what NIO said.
Actually, when we look back at the author of this puzzle, one question comes to mind.
Why does Li Bin stubbornly refuse to reveal its supplier? Could it be because he himself does not know the answer?
On January 11, facing reporters, Solid State Lion CEO said an interesting thing: Only Li Bin knows the correct answer, everything else is speculation.
On the same day, when markets opened, lithium battery index fell 3%, several stocks stopped trading. After RMB 120B Semcorp stop trading due to fall, its technical director said to CICC: This thing has a long way to go, ten, even 20 years. You have technical issues and you have cost issues.
At the same time, NIO share price jumped 6.42% on that day, brining company’s value at over USD 100B.
Experts point out that despite solid state battery R&D process facing many difficulties, such as technology, mass production, production process, cost control, in theory NIO still has a chance to make it and drastically change the current play in NEV battery market.