View all newsletters
Receive our newsletter - data, insights and analysis delivered to you
  1. Analysis
February 18, 2011updated 08 Apr 2021 8:18am

RESEARCH ANALYSIS: Advanced automotive batteries: are we nearly there?

For some time, manufacturers have been pushing back the technical boundaries of batteries used for hybrid electric vehicles. Matthew Beecham asks executives of three leading advanced battery makers -- Western Lithium Corp, A123 Systems and SB LiMotive -- for their opinions on how this blossoming market is shaping-up.

For some time, manufacturers have been pushing back the technical boundaries of batteries used for hybrid electric vehicles. Matthew Beecham asks executives of three leading advanced battery makers — Western Lithium Corp, A123 Systems and SB LiMotive — for their opinions on how this blossoming market is shaping-up.

Where are we now?

Not so long ago, the automotive industry was protecting an old technology yet nowadays it appears to have embraced the need for hybrids and the use of advanced battery technology.  Macro economic, political and environmental events such oil dependency, new competition and increasing carbon emissions have all contributed towards the new move to electrification of transportation.

Yet some industry observers argue that the emerging electric vehicle (EV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) markets could flatten out due to unproven technology.  They reckon that these markets will be initially bolstered by heavy subsidies to automakers, battery makers and consumers but that sustained growth will depend on yet-to-be-proven battery technology as well as on supporting government policies. 

In response, Jay Chmelauskas, Western Lithium’s president told just-auto:  “Once you move beyond the early adopters, we expect that the first big market for these vehicles will be fleets due to their greater understanding of the total cost of ownership model. This will ultimately be the proving ground for the vehicles on a large scale.  If the technology proves itself and range increases due to early innovations, and we expect that it will, the future could see an increase steeper than all predictions. 

“There are many other driving forces such as increasing energy prices, need for energy independence, competition for dominance in a paradigm shift in the automobile industry, and air pollution in major new wealth centres like Beijing to support the electrification of the automobile.”

Battery costs

Meanwhile, the stubbornly high cost of battery packs remains a hurdle for battery producers. For its part, A123 Systems anticipates significant cost reductions in its products over the next several years and these will come from a combination of manufacturing efficiencies and technology advances.

Jeff Kessen, director of automotive marketing, Automotive Solutions Group, A123 Systems, told us: “We believe that it will not be possible to remain competitive in our market by only relying on manufacturing scale to drive cost reduction. Our R&D portfolio benefits from numerous research partnerships and we anticipate that technology advances will contribute to steady cost improvements over time.

“A variety of industry sources are projecting that industry-wide, battery cost could be cut in half over the next five years. By about 2015, industry analysts estimate that costs should be below $500/kWh, with some saying that costs will drop below $400/kWh. Unfortunately many cost analyses don’t state the underlying assumptions and therefore may not be comparable but we find these projections to be in a reasonable range based on what we know today.”

Range anxieties

Whichever way you look at it, electric vehicles remain expensive and give motorists range anxiety with just 100 miles between charges.

“While we don’t want to minimise the issue of range anxiety” added Kessen, “it is important to note that according to the US Department of Transportation, roughly 80% of US drivers log 50 miles or less per day. There are of course periodic long range trips which an EV won’t support but it’s not reasonable to expect that an EV can replace every vehicle in the market. Rather, we expect that different segments of the automotive market will gravitate to different vehicle types over time. For example, households which have two vehicles may be well suited to enjoy the benefits of an EV in the vehicle predominantly used for work commuting.

“It’s also important to have reasonable expectations for build out of a charging infrastructure. After a home charging location, the next most logical will likely become workplace charging and A123 is actively planning this for its own facilities. We look forward to other employers showing similar leadership as electrified vehicles become more accessible to the consumer.”

Dr Joachim Fetzer, executive vice president, SB LiMotive concluded: “Electric vehicles need batteries that have a high energy density, since a great amount of energy needs to be stored in the battery for the vehicle to travel long distances. Range, which depends in large part on the energy density of the battery cell, is a factor that is crucial to the success of electric vehicles. Currently, a state-of-the art lithium-ion battery for a vehicle with a range of 60 to 90 miles would be the size of the trunk of a VW Golf. In other words, a battery with 35 kilowatt-hours of capacity would have a volume of roughly 350 litre and a mass of some 350 kilograms.

“Customers are demanding a range of 125 miles. To meet their demands, engineers are looking to increase energy density. In raising energy and power density, the focus is on improving the chemicals used in the cells. Improvements in energy density will also make it possible to reduce the weight and size of lithium-ion batteries. Both aspects, reducing battery weight and improving energy density, will help to extend the range of EVs.”

Topics in this article: ,
NEWSLETTER Sign up Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. The top stories of the day delivered to you every weekday. A weekly roundup of the latest news and analysis, sent every Monday. The industry's most comprehensive news and information delivered every quarter.
I consent to GlobalData UK Limited collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy
SUBSCRIBED

THANK YOU

Thank you for subscribing to Just Auto