Mass producing batteries is ''the hardest thing in the world,'' Elon Musk, Tesla's Chief executive, said in a recent conference call with analysts. ''Prototypes are easy. Scaling production is very hard.''

One thing is certain : It's a great time to have a degree in electrochemistry. Those who understand the properties of lithium, nickel, cobalt and other materials are to batteries what software coders are to computers.

China which refines most of the metals used in batteries and now produces more than 70 percent of all battery cells.

And China's grip on battery production will slip only marginally during the next decade despite ambitious plans to expand production in Europe and the United States, according to projections by Roland Berger, a German management consulting firm.

Battery production has ''deep geopolitical ramifications,'' said Tom Einar Jensen, the chief executive of Freyr, which is building a factory in northern Norway to take advantage of the region's abundant wind and hydropower.

''The European auto industry doesn't want to rely too much on imports from Asia in general and China in particular,'' he added.

An entire genre of companies has sprung up to replace expensive minerals used in batteries with materials that are cheaper and more common. OneD Material, based in San Jose, makes a substance that looks like used coffee for use in anodes, the electrode through which power leaves batteries when a vehicle is underway.

The material is made from silicone, which is abundant and inexpensive, to reduce the need for graphite, which is scarcer and more expensive.

Longer term, the industry's holy grail is solid-state batteries, which would replace the liquid lithium solution at the core of most batteries with solid layers of a  lithium compound. Solid state batteries would be more stable and less prone to overheating, allowing faster charging. They would also weigh less.

Toyota Motor and other companies have invested heavily in the technology. and have already succeeded in building some solid-state batteries. The hard part is mass producing  them at a reasonable cost.

The hard part is mass-producing them at a reasonable cost. Much of the excitement around  QuantumScape stems from the company's assertion that it has found material that solves one of the main impediments to mass production of solid-state batteries, namely their tendency to short-circuit if there are any imperfections.

''Twenty years ago, nobody cared much about batteries. Now, there is an intense competition, and 'it's a big fight.'


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