Car Batteries – policy or technology the bigger threats

What is a Gigafactory, costs $5b US and is said will reduce battery pack cost per kWh by 30% by 2017? We kid you not the source of this statistic is talking about TESLA plans for an enormous battery factory in south western USA, and the source is IIT Takeshita dated 2013. The report is linked to the BBC news service 31 March 2013. Whilst all that sounds wonderful, we have a problem. The weakest link for the acceptance of the electric car is the batteries.

It follows that the technology of batteries also mean any plans to set up Gigafactories, such as the TESLA plan to produce lithium-ion batteries for 500,000 cars by 2020 is under threat before it has started. New technologies are being developed that could offer better alternatives to address what experts say is one of the biggest limiting factors for electric vehicles.

“The problem these cars face is that batteries are big and heavy, and as a consequence only a limited number can be installed. The Tesla Model S for example, has a battery pack approximately two metres long by 1.2 metres wide, which is installed flat along the floor of the car. In the top-spec car, that gives a range of about 300 miles (482km) before plugging in and recharging is required. The Nissan Leaf achieves more like 80 miles (128km). On top of that, charging is a much slower process than just filling up with petrol.

How can you make a better battery, then? At its most basic a battery contains a positive and negative electrode, a separator and an electrolyte. Many different types of materials can be used as electrodes, the different combinations of materials allowing different amounts of energy to be stored. However battery life and the safety characteristics change as the materials change, so a compromise is always necessary. Lithium-ion batteries are popular, but have been implicated in fires on board planes, and their transport is restricted . Anything more reactive or unstable could be a hazard. Get the combination right, though, and the payoff could be huge.

The latest efforts follow a long line of improvements over the decades. First we had lead-acid batteries, the type that is still commonly used in cars; they are huge. Then, you might remember NiCad (nickel-cadmium) batteries – they were the rechargeable batteries that heralded a new era of portable technology – laptops, phones, and the like, as well as the remote control cars of our childhoods. Then came NiMH (nickel metal hydride) batteries, with about twice the capacity, or energy density. Now modern devices and electric cars are powered by lithium ion, or Li-ion, batteries.” Again the source is BBC News quoting Phil Gott, the senior planning director at HIS Automotive.

Then comes news that there are materials which can double the current energy density available for batteries. The BBC again quoted Daniel Abraham, a material scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, outside Chicago in the US. “We dream up or imagine the types of materials we would like to work with, then we attempt to synthesize the materials in the laboratory.”

Being developed, or maybe more correctly investigated, is batteries known as lithium-air, or lithium-oxygen, or lithium-sulphur batteries. Lithium-oxygen batteries. Talked about, as they are not yet working as planned, but are promising when that is sorted will be an order of magnitude improvement over the current Li-ion batteries.

But although the technology has revolutionary potential, the technical challenges of making a Lithium-air battery work consistently, reliably, and safely – and crucially for extended durations – are large. So far the electrodes have proven unstable.

But we guess we can look forward to a future where we will eventually have better, faster, travel further cars that run on batteries.

The question then becomes: Will the treat to the planned Gigafactory be the technology, will nothing be done after all. Co2Land org supposes if the politics of the day says government will announce yea or nay support after the project is ready to proceed – will it happen at all? It would be an enormous risk for investors. If the government were a more traditional policy announcement then left to be proven would that not be a better business risk? Interesting is it not?




EV’s – not cost, heat management the issue.

The advisor to the minister responded to a call from a colleague – we want to talk about saving an industry. Advances in electric car technology can make it viable to say many of the limits for production are no longer the problem – the batteries that is.

We went looking for the facts, and a quick search then found a story ( ) Why do electric vehicles use so many batteries? From that story we learnt the cost of batteries are only part of the issue. It is the battery technology that is the dominant problem. “The world’s most recognisable electric vehicles (EVs), such as the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf, run on hundreds, or even thousands, of small battery cells.” Then there is the type of battery construction “BMW’s new i3 electric runabout spreads 96 battery cells across eight modules in its pack. The Leaf uses almost 200 thin laminated film cells that are packaged into 48 modules, and the Model S has more than 6,800 small lithium-ion battery cylinders.”

However, cost is important in the decision on the number of cells to be used. Explaining Tesla’s decision to use lap top type batteries: “Leigh Christie, an EV engineer, says manufacturers’ embrace of smaller batteries boils down to cost. “The capital cost for manufacturing equipment for 18650-size cells is as about as low as it gets,” he wrote. “This cell has been manufactured longer than pretty much any other lithium-ion cell.”

From what is said forums note “a nuanced view of why so much variation exists around how many batteries an EV uses, and why the industry is not quite ready for a mega-battery.” So it is not that mega batteries are not available, it is they are more expensive to produce. And, smaller batteries offer temperature control benefits, and were “easier to stack in unique ways to distribute weight and make use of small spaces in a vehicle chassis.”

All that said on further reading it becomes obvious heat is and the managing of heat is the bigger cost issue. Yes, that is correct the cost of managing heat and heat from EV battery cells is something all manufacturers must learn to manage. “The gaps between the cells allow for cooling and minimize the possibility of thermal runaway,” and “That’s why Nissan’s flat laminated cells are designed with a large surface area that quickly disperses the batteries’ heat. Because of this, the Leaf does not require a separate battery-cooling unit, such as those in the i3 and Model S.”

Co2Land org must now conclude electronic vehicles still need more time to be mainstream and the issues with the batteries are the matter that needs the most attention. Namely,

The cost of manufacture, the number required to be diverted from other product needs for similar batteries, the size range available, the matter of managing heat.

Therefore to be fully desirable those problems and issues need to be overcome for long-term success.   It follows we have success in making plant available, we just need technology to catch up with the battery needs.