China explores new EV battery technology

Chinese companies pioneer technology to provide cheaper and more powerful packs for electric vehicles

One of China’s top battery-makers believes it has developed a technology to provide cheaper and more powerful packs for electric vehicles.

Gotion High-Tech recently unveiled a lithium-iron-manganese-phosphate battery (LMFP), which it says will power an EV for 1,000km on each charge. Until now, it’s largely the more expensive nickel-cobalt batteries have provided that kind of range.

“It’s an upgrade, it’s a leap for energy density,” Cheng Qian, executive president of Gotion’s international business unit, said in a phone interview from Tokyo.

Gotion’s offering adds manganese to existing lithium-iron-phosphate chemistry that was commercialised in China and has been adopted by major EV makers from BYD to Tesla as a method of cutting the cost of some models.

Improvements in LFP that pack more power into smaller packages have helped popularise the technology, which is typically cheaper to manufacture.

LFP batteries almost hit a ceiling of energy density at 190Wh/kg, Cheng said, while Gotion’s new battery could achieve 240Wh/kg.That means it can store more energy in every battery cell, minimising the weight and size of the pack.

The innovation highlights how battery technology and raw material needs are still evolving and unpredictable as the world’s automakers seek to slash costs while boosting EV performance. It also shows how Chinese companies continue to pioneer those advances.

Gotion, listed in Shenzhen and with Volkswagen as its largest shareholder, expects its LMFP battery to cost 5 per cent less than a conventional LFP battery in terms of dollars per kilowatt hour, Cheng said. That would be as much as 20 per cent to 25 per cent cheaper than nickel-cobalt units.

The LMFP chemistry can replace some of the industry’s nickel-cobalt cells “with the same performance but lower costs and better safety”, Cheng said. “I think it’s very attractive for carmakers, and I have to say a lot of companies will follow this trend.”

LMFP technology is not new, but traditionally the cells are not used in EV applications for reasons from low conductivity to high-temperature dissolution or low density. Gotion said its battery – which it calls “Astroinno” – has overcome those technical challenges.

Gotion’s manganese-added cells “will create real opportunity to compete with some NCM chemistries where standard LFP struggles to compete on energy density”, said Victoria Hugill, battery research analyst at London-based consultancy Rho Motion. LMFP could take a 6 per cent market share by 2040, likely surpassing other emerging options like sodium-ion batteries, she said.

Astroinno could be in mass production as soon as the second quarter next year, according to Cheng. It has passed safety tests and the LMFP batteries will be manufactured in two plants in China’s Anhui province.

Gotion has been ramping up overseas expansions, from planning a battery plant in Michigan state to raising a global depositary receipts offering in Switzerland last year. The company was the world’s eighth-largest battery manufacturer last year, according to SNE Research.

Astroinno joins some other significant battery innovations by Chinese companies in recent years. In 2020, BYD launched its Blade battery – an LFP unit with sleeker shape and improved energy density. Contemporary Amperex Technology is developing what it calls a condensed-state battery.

Among advantages will be an ability for fast charging that could take just shade more than a quarter of an hour, according to Gotion’s Cheng.

“You can have a cup of coffee and rest at the charging station, and the battery will be charged from 10 per cent to 80 per cent within 18 minutes using the step charging,” he said.


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