The quest for the perfect rechargeable battery to power future electric vehicles is gathering pace. The emphasis is to mass-produce safe, durable batteries and have significant energy density to enable acceptable vehicle driving range per charge. The cost of an electric vehicle (EV) is determined by the size of the battery pack fitted.
The world’s leading electric vehicle car brand Tesla warrants their battery life to a minimum of 8 years or 100,000 miles on their standard Model S and up to 150,000 miles on the Model S and Model X. The Tesla EV battery should last between 300,000 and 500,000 miles or 21 to 35 years.
The development of EV battery technology is making great strides as the pressure on the automotive industry to phase out internal combustion engines increases. The most important issues regarding EV battery technology are:
- Battery safety in case of collision or fire
- Battery range increase
- Reducing the degradation of the battery
- Reducing the charge duration of the battery
The quest to develop the ideal EV battery technology is gaining momentum, especially in China, where more than ninety percent of the battery production capacity is concentrated. The future of mobility is electrically powered vehicles. Let’s look at the automotive industry’s challenges during this transformation to electric vehicles.
Why Don’t EV Batteries Last Forever?
The rapid growth of cellular telephones has driven the technology behind developing smaller, lighter, and more durable batteries. Cell phones have become smaller and more powerful during the past thirty years.
It is thus no surprise that the largest battery manufacturers are based in China and have grown along with the cell phone industry.
The Nickel Metal Hydride chemistry of the cell phone industry has also spawned a massive growth in the popularity of cordless power tools and appliances.
The efficiency improvements and cost reductions made in photovoltaic charge technology have also contributed to the rapid growth in demand for rechargeable batteries.
Lithium-ion technology batteries are currently the most cost-effective and energy-dense solution for batteries in electric vehicles. The problem is that the chemistry that drives the battery to be recharged and discharged repeatedly degrades over time. The enemy of the EV battery life is heating.
When a battery is charged, the heat generated by increasing the battery electrical potential causes the formation of crystals between the cathode and anode of the battery. The cathode of a Li-ion battery consists of lithium-rich material where the lithium ions sit.
The anode comprises layers of graphite and metal such as iron. When the fully charged battery provides power to the electrical motor of the car, the lithium ions move from the cathode to the anode. As the lithium-ion concentration at the cathode becomes depleted, the battery will lose charge.
The lithium ions are pumped back from the anode to the cathode during the recharging process. Depending on how fast this charging process is set to run, the heat generated in the battery causes crystals to form in the battery. The loss of active ingredients due to the slow buildup of crystals results in the slow degradation of the battery.
How Can I Optimize The Life Of My EV Battery Pack?
Fast recharge cycles cause the degradation of the electrolyte in the battery to be accelerated and thus limits the lifespan of the EV battery. EV batteries do not react well to:
- Depletion to below ten percent charge
- Extremely high temperatures
- Extremely low temperatures
There are some guidelines to get the best value out of your EV battery pack and thus optimize the lifespan and performance of your EV. EV battery manufacturers advise that the optimal charge range to maximize the lifespan of the battery pack is between 20% and 80% of full charge.
- Do not charge continuously overnight as this will result in overcharging
- Limit the number of fast charges to a minimum as fast charging generates the most heat buildup in the battery
- Do not park the vehicle in direct sunlight or extremely cold conditions for extended periods
- Do not accelerate fast, as this places strain on the battery when sudden bursts of power are drawn
Plan your daily commute carefully to optimize the battery life between 80% and 20% battery charge life. Also, plan your road trips so that you can stop and recharge at predetermined locations to prevent your battery life from falling below 20%.
During long road trips, use fast charging to get the battery life back to 80%.
Why Are Electric Vehicles And EV Batteries So Expensive?
The battery pack and the battery management system will comprise more than sixty percent of the cost of a new electric vehicle. The battery production capacity cannot keep up with the consumer demand for EVs in the developed markets.
China leads the world in EV battery production and the volume of EVs sold in the market.
New EV battery production plants are being built and commissioned at a frenetic pace in China. The legacy automobile manufacturers have been slow to transition to the manufacture and distribution of EVs.
As they wake up to this new reality, the demand for EV batteries is limiting the growth of EV sales.
The strong demand for EV batteries will keep the costs high until the demand curve starts to flatten out. The mining of chemicals such as lithium for EV batteries is another aspect that limits the rate at which battery production can grow. Once the EV market becomes more mature, the recycling of EV batteries will become a major source of battery chemicals.
Many automotive manufacturers have already committed themselves to converting their products from internal combustion engines (ICE) to electric vehicles(EV) or fuel cell electric vehicles(FCEV). In FCEV, hydrogen gas is reacted with the oxygen in the air to generate electricity, and pure water is emitted from this process.
FCEV does not have the same battery durability issues as EV, but the technology poses some other challenges, such as the production of hydrogen gas in an environmentally friendly process and setting up a network of hydrogen filling stations.
Does A Zero Emission Vehicle Really Exist?
The transition to electric vehicles is being driven by visionaries like Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, and BYD Automotive Chairman, Wang Chuanfu. They have realized that the automotive industry cannot continue to exist as it has for the past 150 years if humans want to live on this planet.
The transportation industry is a major contributor to carbon emissions on the planet, and humanity needs to change from burning fossil fuels to forms of renewable energy that will not cause harm to the environment. The solution of utilizing the sun’s energy to power as much of our energy needs as possible seems to be obvious.
The challenge has been effectively converting sunlight to energy and then storing and distributing this energy as required. We have engineered photovoltaic cells that are quite efficient at generating power, but we are still lagging in the means to effectively store such energy until it is needed.
Natural Mineral Required
We have even engineered vehicles that can run on electrical power and are far more efficient than ICE vehicles, but they still require materials and processes that emit large amounts of carbon emissions.
The mining and processing of minerals and metals needed to produce EVs such as aluminum, magnesium, iron, and lithium are very energy-intensive and generate a lot of carbon emissions.
Lightweight materials such as plastics and rubber are based on refined petrochemicals and thus contribute to carbon emissions. It would be true to say that no Zero Emission vehicle exists at present or is foreseen in the near future.
We have to use fossil fuels sparingly and mitigate the resultant carbon emissions with carbon capture processes. We cannot and should not try and determine the financial cost of the transition to solar-powered and other forms of sustainable energy.
The very air that we breathe is at stake, and we cannot all live on life support due to the toxicity of the environment that we have created.
How Will EV Battery Costs Change Ownership Models?
In most developed automotive markets, consumers have become comfortable buying and selling cars every three to four years. The average age of a car in the USA is eleven years, and its third or fourth owner owns it. The internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles were engineered to have optimal efficiency during the first three years of ownership.
The highest volume of vehicle sales was of used vehicles aged between two and six years old. After the fifth year of operation, ICE vehicles became expensive to maintain. They were no longer as fuel-efficient, and their major suspension and safety systems started needing replacement.
Electric Vehicles will be far less complex than ICE vehicles. The ICE will have very little complexity as it will consist of simple but efficient electric motors, energy regenerative brakes, and sophisticated battery management systems. No gearboxes, no transfer cases, no prop shafts, no pistons, valves, timing chains, spark plugs, and exhaust pipes.
The EV will be designed to have an efficient lifespan of between ten to thirty years, with only minor maintenance required. The owners of EVs will have to maintain ownership for longer periods to get the best cost of ownership model. After ten years, the maximum charge capacity of an EV will deteriorate by only ten percent.
The recycling of EV batteries will further drive down the cost of the metals and minerals required for battery manufacture, and the cost of manufacture will reduce with further efficiency improvements in battery technology.
Electric Vehicle Fires – What’s Going On?
There has been a lot of publicity surrounding electric vehicles burning out. The most highly publicized has been the Chevrolet Bolt that has been the subject of a recall after numerous incidents of battery fires. Both General Motors, the manufacturers of the Chevy Bolt, and LG Chem, the manufacturers of the battery packs for the Chevy Bolt, are liable for the Two Billion dollars recall cost.
The Lithium-ion battery chemistry is prone to causing fires that cannot be stopped by conventional means. When these batteries are punctured or damaged, the battery chemistry releases pure oxygen, igniting the smallest sparks and leading to a runaway reaction where the fire will only be extinguished once the oxygen release has stopped.
Tesla has also suffered some highly publicized vehicle fires on its older models. The latest battery developed by BYD Auto named the Blade Battery, uses Lithium Iron Phosphate chemistry and is packaged in a flat cell to allow optimal thermal cooling has overcome the strenuous nail piercing test.
The prevalence of ICE vehicles catching fire and burning out is significantly higher than for EVs, but these events are not receiving as much publicity.
Tesla Electric Cars
The new BYD Lithium Iron Phosphate battery technology is set to become the new norm in future electric vehicles. Tesla is launching new EV production plants in Germany and China in 2022, and they will be deploying the new BYD Blade Battery technology in vehicles produced at these new sites.
Warren Buffet of investment giant Berkshire Hathaway owns an 8% stake in BYD (Build Your Dreams) Auto.
The company valuation of BYD and Tesla has grown in leaps in bounds in the past years as these companies are already delivering significant volumes of EVs to the global markets.
Mobility On Demand Electric Vehicles
As the development of the electric vehicle is happening in parallel with autonomous driving, the future of mobility will be one in which we will not have to own vehicles. We will call for a vehicle to pick us up and drop us off at our desired locations. We will only pay for this mobility on demand.
The fleets of autonomous self-driving vehicles will be owned, managed, and serviced by mobility service providers. There will not be a need for so many vehicles as the vehicle utilization will be much better. The vehicles will be maintained and managed to achieve maximum safe usage and cost.
We will no longer have to contend with the headaches of owning a depreciating liability that is stationary for most of the time and is expensive to run, insure and maintain.
We don’t own airplanes but use them as required. Why not do the same with cars?