The Science Fiction of New Battery Breakthroughs

Not a week goes by that I don’t see an article about a new battery that is going to “kill” lithium as a major battery input. 

But all those articles are littered with what those technologies “could” or “hope to” achieve, with scant detail about the specifics of how they’re going to do it. 

The Independent gushed this month that a “Battery breakthrough using sugar offers record-breaking potential for renewable energy.” 

The Science Fiction of New Battery Breakthroughs.

Of course, we all know that potential is often squandered. 

This latest too-sweet-to-be-true breakthrough comes from the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. It’s still at a very early stage and has only been tested at lab-scale, which means at least a decade to any potential commercialization. 

Check out our latest free research reports for in depth analysis on specific market trends. View Reports

Struck with a sense of déjà vu, your editor took to Google and learned that Sony first published the theory of a sugar battery in 2007 as part of its biobattery research. In 2012, it shifted research to a paper battery. After 2013, Sony never mentioned the project again.

In 2014, Virginia Tech published research on a sugar battery that was expected to be realized in an application in three years. That was nine years ago. 

And here we are today, still in the lab with a sugar battery that will surely power more clicks on the Internet than anything in the real world. 

So forgive me if I take new breakthrough battery announcements with a grain of lithium salt. 

That includes Toyota’s widely cited recent announcement that it plans to halve the size, cost and weight of batteries while also getting to one-charge ranges of over 700 miles by turning to solid-state batteries rather than conventional liquid lithium-ion batteries. 

As of today, Toyota only has one fully electric vehicle for sale in the US. It’s called the bZ4X, and it uses a conventional lithium-ion battery. 

This spring, Toyota announced a new family of EVs scheduled to debut, starting with the Lexus brand, in 2026. They will use “next-generation” lithium-ion batteries. Then, according to Inside EVs:

The next step, slated for 2026-2027, involves a bipolar lithium iron phosphate battery that can reduce costs by 40 percent compared to the previous iteration, while an advanced bipolar lithium iron battery with 10 percent more range is scheduled to go into production in 2027-2028.

Looks like a lot of lithium to me.

The solid-state batteries wouldn’t come into the mix until after that, meaning they’re at least five years away. And even so, they still use lithium. They might even use more lithium than current batteries because in addition to the electrolyte they would use a lithium anode instead of a graphite one. 

Indeed, if it’s going to halve the size and weight, Toyota will undoubtedly be looking at reducing the use of other metals in the battery instead of lithium. After all, most of the weight in a lithium-ion battery comes from non-lithium materials like nickel and graphite, with lithium only making up 7%.

So if they are successful in their halving endeavor and getting to a 700+ mile range, I think it would actually be a net positive for lithium demand given the amount of EVs with lithium batteries Toyota would be selling. 

Check out our premium publications for more trading recommendations and exclusive coverage on the markets. View Publications

But with or without a solid-state breakthrough later this decade, the lithium investment case remains exceedingly bullish. Since last autumn, planned investments in large U.S. lithium-ion battery plants have climbed steeply from around $40 billion to more than $77 billion.

In new research that came out last month, Benchmark Minerals, a widely respected and followed industry forecaster and consultant, said: 

Demand for lithium ion batteries is forecast to grow to 3.7 terawatt-hours by 2030, up from around 1 TWh this year. Most of this growth is driven by an ever increasing demand for electric vehicles.

Producing the critical raw materials will require $220 billion (43% of the total), with nickel and lithium accounting for over half of that. 

This year is expected to see over a million tonnes LCE of lithium mined for the first time, according to Benchmark’s Lithium Forecast.

By 2030 this number will need to increase to 2.8 million tonnes, with almost all of this demand growth driven by the need for lithium ion batteries. Benchmark’s analysis shows that the expansion of the global lithium industry will need $51 billion of investment.

Benchmark’s view is that lithium, more than any other part of the supply chain, will be the bottleneck for the growth of the battery industry. To put the scale of the lithium challenge into context, more lithium will be needed in 2030 than was mined between 2015 and 2022, according to Benchmark’s Lithium Forecast.

There are many ways to get investment exposure, but one of the most attractive that I continue to see is new lithium mines on the cusp of development. 

You can see the one I’m buying now right here.

Nick Hodge

Nick Hodge
Publisher, Daily Profit Cycle