QuantumScape (QS) Q3 2023: prototype solid-state test cells exceed performance targets

Following the close of Q3 2023, solid-state battery developer QuantumScape has updated the public to its progress the last three months, which includes some encouraging results. In addition to catching a peep at mockups of its production-intent QSE-5 cell design, QuantumScape’s prototype has done better than expected with one automotive OEM in particular. Are solid-state EVs closer than we imagined? QuantumScape says maybe, but it still has some work to do.

If you don’t know the name QuantumScape ($QS) by now, you should probably start educating yourself (don’t worry, we have plenty of previous coverage for you to study). The advanced battery technology company has been working for over a decade to develop scalable, energy-dense solid-state battery cells that can one day achieve cost parity with traditional lithium-ion cells popular in current EV models.

While there are plenty of competitors out there chasing a future powered by safer and more efficient solid-state cells, QuantumScape hit its own major breakthrough in 2020 by utilizing a proprietary ceramic separator. This technology led to single-layer prototype cell testing, followed by 10-layer cells, then 16-layer prototypes.

By Q2 of 2022, QuantumScape’s solid-state had expanded to 24 layers, setting the stage for vigorous internal testing and the beginning of a three-step journey (A, B, and C prototype cells) before entering automotive qualification and (hopefully) commercialized production.

In December of 2022, QuantumScape began delivering the first 24-layer A0 prototype cells to automotive partners to test themselves, and by Q1 of 2023, testing had been completed by at least one unnamed EV OEM.

At that same time, QuantumScape shared that its first commercial solid-state product will be an ~5 Ah cell called QSE-5 (seen above), which also began shipping to OEM partners as of Q2 2023. Now, QuantumScape has posted its Q3 2023 report, and A0 prototype testing has delivered results that were better than expected.

QuantumScape Q3
A mockup of QuantumScape’s QSE-5 solid-state cell with FlexFrame / Credit: QuantumScape

QuantumScape rolls in Q3, shares FlexFrame format

As previously mentioned, QuantumScape’s first planned commercial product will be a solid-state cell called the QSE-5, based upon the aforementioned A0 prototype cells. QS states that the cell consists of a unique format it calls FlexFrame, which combines the conventional pouch and prismatic cell designs in order to address the “uniaxial expansion of lithium metal as it plates and strips during charging and discharging.”

The battery developer shared that a primary goal for 2023 is to improve the packaging of its QSE-5 cells compared to the A0 prototypes, as the former will contain higher-loading cathodes than the former, sustaining higher current densities built with tighter margins, putting more stress on the cell.

For comparison, QuantumScape says the QSE-5 cells are designed to deliver a capacity around 5 amp-hours (Ah), while 2170 battery designs currently used by some of the top EV automakers offer an average capacity of around 4.5–5 Ah. In this case, QuantumScape sits on the cusp of performance parity if not better, using smaller, lighter, and safer cells.

Switching back to the A0 prototypes that will enable the production of the QSE-5 cells someday, QuantumScape provided further room for optimism in its Q3 2023 report. The company states that although its commercial target for its solid-state cells remains at 80% energy retention through 800 charge cycles, one prospective automotive customer found much better results testing the A0 cells.

Those labs completed over 1,000 full cycle equivalents and achieved over 95% discharge energy retention using test conditions of C/3 charge and C/2 discharge with QuantumScape’s standard temperature and pressure conditions, and 100% depth of discharge. In the Q3 report, QuantumScape patted itself on the back for this encouraging result, but isn’t shopping for yachts any time soon – there is still plenty of room for improvement. Per the company:

We emphasize that this is the best-performing cell and we have work to do on aspects such as reliability. Nonetheless, this is an exceptional result. We are not aware of any automotive-format lithium-metal battery that has shown such high discharge energy retention over a comparable cycle count, at room temperature and modest pressure, regardless of C-rate. We believe that no competing electrolyte — solid or liquid — has demonstrated sufficient stability with lithium metal to achieve this, and that this result sets a new high-water mark for lithium-metal battery performance.

Credit: QuantumScape Q3 Report

Looking ahead, QuantumScape states that its work beyond Q3 2023 will remain focused on QSE-5 development, which could find much success in several applications serving all vehicles from passenger EVs, to commercial trucks, motorcycles, and even consumer electronics. In regard to electronics, QuantumScape’s Q3 report states that the company’s single-layer solid-state cells have now achieved between 1,500 to 2,000 cycles with approximately 80% discharge energy retention with zero externally applied pressure. For comparison, QS states that 500 to 1,000 charge-discharge cycles represents the key life cycle threshold for most consumer electronics applications.

On the manufacturing side, QuantumScape has completed equipment installation for its “Raptor” fast separator heat treatment process (3x as fast as previous processes) and remains on track to deploy the process by year’s end. It also continues to make progress in implementing its “Cobra” process to support the QSE-5 B0 prototype production in the future.

Financials look good as well. The Q3 report detailed $1.1 billion in liquidity as QuantumScape raised $300 million in gross proceeds the past three months. The company’s current forecast offers enough runway to continue solid-state cell development into 2026. Per QuantumScape:

Our focus for 2023 is simple: turn the corner from prototype to product. Our key milestones are all aimed at advancing product development to build a sufficient level of technical and manufacturing maturity to enable initial production of QSE-5. With just a few months remaining in the year, we are maintaining aggressive near-term schedules and remain focused on bringing a potentially disruptive first product to market in the near future.

But strategically, our mission is bigger than a series of near-term objectives. We have been pursuing a next-generation electric vehicle battery for over a decade, and with a mission as challenging and as important as this, long-term thinking is indispensable. Moreover, the market opportunity for our technology platform is massive, potentially in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually for decades to come.

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