A few weeks ago, Toyota announced it was bringing a breakthrough battery technology to market: the bipolar nickel-metal hydride battery in the Japanese-market Toyota Aqua (a relative of the Prius C we used to get). It’s worth mentioning, because even though Toyota spent a lot of time in a recent presentation outlining its solid-state battery investments—which we’ll cover in a second—the historically conservative automaker is hedging its bets, looking for incremental improvements, and investing heavily in older technology, as well. After all, nickel-metal hydride isn’t state-of-the-art like solid-state batteries are, but the bipolar battery shows that it’s worthwhile to invest in proven, economical alternatives to the next greatest thing.
That’s not to say the actual meat of the news here about solid-state batteries isn’t worthwhile. It just puts it in the context of the broader Toyota battery development program. Toyota announced a $13.6 billion investment in battery technology (including, but not limited to, solid-state batteries), spread out between research and development and production equipment. After all, Toyota has a long-standing policy of keeping battery development and production in-house (though utilizing partners like Panasonic), and its solid-state battery tech is no exception.
If you need a refresher on why the solid-state battery is so important—potentially a game-changer in the EV space—you can read this primer. But there are kinks to iron out. The solid electrolyte material surrounding the battery cells has, in Toyota’s testing regime, developed gaps that affect battery performance and service life when utilized in battery electric vehicles (BEVs). That’s why, at least initially, Toyota will implement the tech in hybrids (HEVs), where the issue is less of a concern, while simultaneously developing it further for BEVs down the road. For the full story, check out this article from Motor Trend.