Friday, October 9, 2009

Electric Vehicle Battery Technology Obstacles and Solutions

Environmental concerns are fueling interest in electric vehicles (EVs). The world's auto companies are racing to make affordable EVs that go farther on a single charge while decreasing the time it takes to recharge batteries. According to analysis by A.T. Kearney, the global market for electric and hybrid electric vehicles was forecast to surge to $21.8 billion by 2015 from about $31.9 million in 2009.

Electric Cars use the energy stored in batteries for vehicle propulsion. Depending on how the electricity is generated to charge electric motors, they can provide a clean and safe alternative to the internal combustion engine.

The world's first practical EV was built in Britain by Robert Davidson in 1873. Electric vehicles were subsequently eclipsed by gasoline engines due to their superior performance characteristics. By the beginning of the 21st century, increased concern over the environmental impact of petroleum-based vehicles, along with the specter of peak oil, sparked renewed interest in an electric transportation infrastructure.

The current generation of EV has faster acceleration but shorter range than combustion engines. They produce no exhaust but require long charging times.

Iveco has recently presented a prototype of the first zero emission light commercial vehicle produced in Latin America. The Prototype is equipped with three sodium, nickel and chloride batteries. The vehicle is assisted by an energy recovery system, similar to the Kers (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) used to recharge batteries under braking conditions. The vehicle has a range of 100 km and reaches a fully laden top speed of 70 km/h.

Many of the 2010 EVs take advantage of the most advanced lithium-ion battery technologies. Lithium-ion batteries are preferred over nickel-based batteries because they are smaller, lighter and more powerful.

Lithium-ion batteries can store significantly more energy and generate twice the power per unit volume over nickel based hybrid batteries. They also have a life span of approximately 8 years and 2,000 recharges. Presently, a lithium-ion battery in a typical sedan can deliver a range of about 100 miles / 160 kilometers on a single charge and can be recharged in three to seven hours.

The safety of today’s battery technology is unprecedented. Better Place uses advanced lithium-ion batteries made from non-toxic materials. A lithium-ion battery can also be recycled with minimal environmental impact. More than 95 percent of the battery materials can be recovered and reused.

Over a billion dollars per year is invested into lithium-ion battery research including automotive applications. As reported at, US Vice President Joe Biden recently announced that the Recovery Act will include stimulus funds for EV batteries this year. The Department of Energy will put in place funding for battery manufacturing plants capable of powering 400,000 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles each year.

With up to 70% of a lithium-ion battery's cost coming from raw materials like lithium, the interest in EVs is causing lithium prices to surge. Even Warren Buffet, well known for his massive investments in crude, is now buying into lithium. Some pundits are predicting that lithium prices will rise by the end of 2010.

EV support structures will require considerable investment. Each recharging station costs about $500,000 and the costs of building charging systems will total more than $320 billion over the next couple of decades.

Batteries add nearly $5000 to the price of an EV. Although the cost of lithium-ion batteries has come down by nearly 75% in the past several years, cost remains an important obstacle to their widespread adoption.

In July, the University of California at Berkeley released a study showing that if batteries were removed from the price, by 2030 the vast majority of light vehicle sales in the US would be EVs. However, as lithium-ion EV battery manufacturers achieve economies of scale, costs should continue to decline.

Panasonic has developed a method of binding standard lithium-ion batteries together to power cars, this approach is similar to what Tesla Motors is doing. It should cut EV battery manufacturing costs in half, because it can take advantage of existing production facilities and expertise.

Another hurdle to mass acceptance of EVs is that they take hours to charge. However, a team of MIT students claim that their electric cars can be fully charged within ten minutes. Their hybrid car project is called the eIEVen and it employs a lithium iron-phosphate battery that gives the car a range of 200 miles per charge. The team’s press materials indicate that these batteries are less volatile than other types of lithium-ion batteries. Performance numbers for the eIEVen are impressive, the car clocks a 0 to 60 time of just 9 seconds with a top speed of 100 mph. The vehicle can also be charged at home overnight via more conventional electric power.

Recharging car batteries solely from home is not practical and the 40 ChargePoint stations in the US are not capable of rapid recharging. If EVs are going to be manufactured on a large scale they must be supported by the appropriate infrastructure.

The limited range of EVs is yet another obstacle, but the switchable battery approach promoted by Better Place may offer the best solution given the current state of the technology. Switching batteries provides drivers with virtually unlimited range and recharging EV batteries employs photovoltaic solar panels. Better Place switching stations are scheduled for Israel, Denmark, Australia, California, Hawaii and Canada. IBM is currently developing a battery with a range of 500-miles on a single charge.

Israel's ETV Motors is working on battery technology as well as a hybrid concept that uses a micro-turbine to replenish an EV's battery.

Innovative approaches employing lithium-ion batteries have proven that they can work. Kiyotaka Fujii, President of Better Place Japan and Head of Business Development for Asia Pacific said “our successful demonstration of charging vehicles with both fixed and switchable batteries is an important contribution towards moving the entire industry forward.”

For the foreseeable future, batteries are likely to play a crucial role in the proliferation of zero emission mobility and lithium-ion technology offers an increasingly cost effective, high performance solution for EVs.

Next: Greener Commercial Transport Vehicles / Asian Greener Cars (Toyota's Greener Vehicles / Nissan's Greener Vehicles / Honda's Greener Vehicles / Korean (Hyundai & Kia) Greener Cars / European Greener Cars / American Greener Vehicles (Ford's Greener Vehicles / GM's Greener Vehicles) / Government Investment in Greener Vehicles

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skelly said...

Green Battery Tech ( is focused on utilizing the infrastructure already in place. The company is not researching new chemistries it is enhancing the ones we already have a hold on. The way into the market, the only way to grap the lion's share of the EV market is to utilize a pre-existing infrastructure and make incremental improvements to the chemistry/platform. The jump from the laboratory to mass production is far too long for a new electro-chemistry. The unknowns far outweigh the knowns and the company that leverages the knowns will win the race. The companies approach to gain market share is far superior to the rest. Take a look at their site.

Unknown said...

EV battery technology can limit the impact that charge time has on EV sales by standardizing the batteries. If the batteries are designed so that they are easily removed and replaced it can open up a whole new resale market. Fully charged batteries can be purchased and replace discharged batteries at a minimal cost of electricity and a recycle fee in a fraction of the time it would take to recharge a battery. A retailer would stock a volume of these batteries based on demand and charge time. Problem solved!

Richard Matthews said...

You are quite correct "switchable batteries" are indeed a promising approach that addresses both range anxiety and recharging times.

Two years ago Better Place started a switchable battery electric taxi partnership in Japan.

Unknown said...

I'm just baffled how long it takes for these products to hit the market. I think an electric car is less complicated than an IPhone. Electric motorcycles are also slow to hit the market.