In this interview, Matthew Beecham talked with Jonathan Shine, vice president of business development and co-founder of Evida. Evida Power Inc designs and manufactures energy solutions for the Electric Vehicle (EV) market, with operations in the US, Europe, Israel and China.
just-auto: Last year’s stimulus package committed the US government to spending billions for batteries for electric cars. Do you think that the new manufacturing capacity could exceed the demand for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids?
Jonathan Shine: It is impossible to say what the demand will be for batteries for EVs and hybrids, but certainly the hybrid market is already quite robust and shows good signs of potential growth.
Some people believe that the emerging EV and PHEV markets could flatten out due to unproven technology. They reckon that the market 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. Would you agree?
I would not agree with this. If you take Nissan as an example, their EV is ten years in the making. They are building at least three plants for both cars and batteries (two of each type in the us, UK and Japan) and the technology is likely to be highly robust, with costs coming down to prices that will not need subsidies. Oil prices may well soar in coming months and years, increasing the attractiveness of EVs and PHEV. In the UK, which is a hub of activity for manufacturing of commercial EVs (electric trucks), many of the vehicles have been on the road for several years with excellent performance records – so the technology is already proven.
I guess that the stubbornly high cost of battery packs – which can account for about half the cost of an electric vehicle – is a big hurdle. Presumably, the costs need to be reduced to below $400 a kilowatt hour to make it commercially attractive? Are battery packs likely to enjoy the traditional economies of scale as demand increases for electric cars?
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Yes, and they already are with Evida’s customers.
If the cost of battery packs can be significantly reduced, where will the cost reduction come from? i.e. efficient factory management, cutting waste and other management-related expenses or from fundamental improvements in battery technology?
Two sources: the initial one will be in lower bulk bill of materials (BOM) purchase costs coupled with efficient production costs (including lowering waste by improving quality ration) and the second will be the medium-term development of cells with lower inherent raw material costs (e.g. sulphur or sodium based chemistries). Also, as the lifecycle curve for existing chemistries reveals better-than-expected results (3,000 or more cycles with low/no degradation of cells), even at higher prices, the value of batteries is maintained relative to TOC of fossil-fuelled vehicles.
Whichever way you look at it, EVs remain expensive and give motorists range anxiety with just 100 miles between charges. What needs to happen to EV batteries to improve this situation?
Nothing needs to happen to the batteries; there just needs to be educational tools to help consumers understand that for large numbers of them, 100 miles is much more than they will ever need on a single charge. This is certainly the case for domestic users who have more than one car, or for businesses whose vehicle usage patterns are predictable and predetermined. For PHEVs, range is already not a problem.
As we see it, while extended-range EVs (EREVs) eliminate range anxiety, the costs of their range extenders will have to fall as fast as those of battery packs to keep then an attractive option. We suspect that over time, EREVs will migrate to higher segments, offering sporty and luxury models a way to provide zero emissions in city centres while maintaining peak performance at high speeds. Meanwhile, the low end is likely to migrate over time toward pure battery electric vehicles. How do you see the evolution of EREVs?
I think EREVs have a very rosy future, as they are best of both worlds – they will catch on as the cool thing to have, and as gasoline prices rise, they will become ever more popular.
NiMH batteries are said to be not an ideal energy-storage device for hybrid cars. Their limitations include moderate energy conversion efficiency, which translates to some energy loss and significant heat production in normal usage, reduced life with high depth-of-discharge cycling, and unsatisfactory performance at high and low temperatures. Given these limitations, how do you see its application for future hybrid and electric cars?
NiMH are well suited to mild hybrids where he batteries are not fully charged or discharged – the Prius, which uses this chemistry, has already demonstrated their value in this application. Other than that, NiMH has little future in PHEVs and EVs.
While the lithium-ion batteries have their merits, if the plug-in battery vehicle contains a lithium-ion battery, which is to be given a full charge every night in a residential garage, is there not a more serious concern about hazardous failure than with the smaller batteries of conventional HEVs, which are always kept at an intermediate state of charge?
Charging vehicles to full capacity is perfectly safe if the control and safety systems are well designed. Furthermore, some lithium chemistries are much more stable than others (e.g. Lithium iron phosphate) – so it depends on chemistry and systems. It is certainly no more of an issue that vehicles with a gas tank and fuel lines full of highly flammable liquids.