SOTARO YUMAE and KENYA AKAMA, Nikkei staff writers
TOKYO — Toyota Motor is by far the leading holder of solid-state battery patents, a Nikkei study shows, demonstrating how Japanese companies have dominated the race to develop the next-generation power source for electric vehicles.
Solid-state batteries do away with liquid electrolytes used in conventional lithium-ion batteries. TDK and other companies have already put miniature solid-state batteries on the market, but solid-state batteries for EVs are still in the prototype stage.
It is expected that solid-state batteries will double the driving distance and take a third of the time to recharge. The batteries are also known to reduce fire risks.
One major hurdle facing solid-state batteries is cost. A solid-state battery is more than four times more expensive than a typical lithium-ion battery, according to some estimates.
Nikkei has partnered with Tokyo research company Patent Result to pore over solid-state battery patent applications submitted to the World Intellectual Property Organization and another group. The study looked at applications turned in between 2000 through the end of March from 10 countries and territories.
Toyota is the leader with 1,331 known patents while Panasonic Holdings is a distant second with 445 patents. Idemitsu Kosan holds 272 patents, meaning Japanese companies held the top three spots.
Fourth-place Samsung Electronics was the only non-Japanese company to enter the top five. Overall, Japanese companies occupied six of the top 10 rankings.
Toyota has researched solid-state batteries since the 1990s. The company holds patents in a wide range of applications, including battery structure, material and manufacturing processes.
In 2020, Toyota came out of the gate first by developing a running prototype vehicle powered by a solid-state battery. That same year, Toyota and Panasonic established an EV battery joint venture, and both companies are working in conjunction to research and develop solid-state technology.
Idemitsu, one of Japan’s biggest oil refiners, holds patents mainly in metallic materials for solid-state batteries.
Rivals outside of Japan are gaining ground in the solid-state patents game. South Korean players in particular have dramatically expanded the patents in their portfolios.
Between 2016 and 2020, Toyota increased patents in its possession by roughly 40%. During that same span, Samsung more than doubled its patents, while LG Chem tripled its count.
South Korean companies possess numerous patents directly concerning real-world performance, such as the life span of batteries.
Sony Group was the first company to commercialize rechargeable lithium-ion batteries in 1991. Japanese corporations have continued to demonstrated their strength in EV batteries. In 2018, Panasonic held the largest global share in that category, according to Tokyo market analytics firm Techno Systems Research.
But in recent years, Chinese companies backed by government largesse have invested heavily in batteries, undermining the clout of Japanese competitors. Last year, Panasonic slid to third place in market share.
Toyota is due to roll out a hybrid vehicle equipped with a solid-state battery during the first half of this decade. Nissan Motor and Honda Motor plan to release EVs with solid-state batteries in the latter half of the 2020s. Non-Japanese automakers like Volkswagen have their own plans to launch models with solid-state batteries as well.