Electric Vehicle Battery Technology, by Richard Matthews
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.
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 EV has faster acceleration but shorter range than combustion engines. They produce no exhaust but require long charging times.
Electric vehicles first came into existence in the mid-19th century, however it was eclipsed by the performance characteristics of gasoline powered cars. By the beginning of the 21st century, increased concern over the environmental impact of petroleum-based vehicles, along with the specter of peak oil, have fostered renewed interest in an electric transportation infrastructure.
Iveco has recently presented a prototype of the first zero emission light commercial vehicle produced in Latin America. The Prototype is equipped with three Zebra Z5 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 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 whitehouse.gov, 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 as much as 600% 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.
One of the hurdles 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. However, there are currently only 40 ChargePoint stations in the US and these cannot accommodate rapid recharging. If rapid recharging EVs are going to be manufactured on a large scale it must be backed up by the appropriate infrastructure.
The limited range of EVs is 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.
When combined with innovative recharging solutions, this generation of lithium-ion batteries has proven that it 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.
Richard Matthews is a Marketing Consultant and author of The Green Market, a blog dedicated to green investing and the economy. Richard hails from Quebec Canada. He enjoys hiking, canoeing, and rock-climbing.