Electric vehicles are making tremendous strides forward. New battery chemistries and designs are improving battery performance, driving range and longevity.
Electric vehicles (EVs) have become an everyday sight on highways and backroads alike, and will soon be ubiquitous on rugged terrain as well. Rivian and Tesla manufacturers have even begun developing all-electric pickup truck models.
And charging times are diminishing significantly, making EVs comparable to gasoline cars in terms of time required to charge them.
Electric vehicles produce lower tailpipe emissions than gas-powered cars, yet battery technology still has room for advancement, particularly to increase driving ranges and advance climate change mitigation strategies. Emissions contribute to climate change, undermine ecosystem stability and threaten human health – so any reduction of their production would have enormous benefits for both climate change mitigation efforts as well as health policymakers.
Scientists are working to advance lithium-ion batteries by creating new materials and making them more compact. A common target material is silicon, as its abundance makes it environmentally friendly. Engineers also aim to increase conductivity and structural stability of lithium batteries through adding binders.
Companies face potential shortages of essential battery materials such as cobalt, nickel and lithium that are expensive to mine. Companies are now exploring alternatives, like lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries that do not use nickel or cobalt. CATL plans on mass producing their LFP batteries by 2023 but may encounter technical hurdles like being three times heavier than lithium-ion batteries; making them better suited for less intensive applications like stationary storage or e-bikes.
Electric vehicle sales have seen steady increases for years now, thanks to policies all around the world investing billions into battery manufacturing and incentivizing EV purchases. But to fully switch over, more reliable yet less costly batteries are necessary – that’s where solid-state batteries come into play.
This technology replaces liquid electrolytes with solid ones made of ceramics or glass for greater energy density without increasing footprint size. As a result, a smaller footprint allows more power without decreasing energy capacity.
These batteries can provide two to ten times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries of comparable size, making for more powerful and longer range electric cars, more compact battery packs and lighter weight packs.
Most major automakers are working on solid-state batteries either independently or with partners, with many anticipating having vehicles featuring these technologies on the market by 2025. Dyson canceled its car plans last autumn in favor of exploring other battery technologies – while still hoping to have its solid-state battery ready by 2020.
Electric cars are driven by electric motors that drive their wheels, similar to how traditional fuel-engine cars do. Electric motors tend to use far fewer parts than internal combustion engines, which means the vehicles tend to be lighter and accelerate more rapidly.
Motor technologies are rapidly developing. Over the last year, there has been a shift towards lithium iron phosphate (LFP) cathodes which reduce reliance on metals like nickel and cobalt while improving pack density while simultaneously decreasing costs. Furthermore, cutting-edge cell-to-pack technologies are increasing density while simultaneously decreasing costs.
Many car companies are developing their own electric motor technology in-house so as to maintain control over this essential part of EV value chains and minimize dependence on suppliers. Porsche Taycan will feature an in-house developed axial flux motor.
Traditional carmakers face enormous stakes. New regulations in Europe and China mandate dramatic CO2 emission cuts starting next year, while consumers have already spent billions of dollars purchasing electric vehicles (EVs).
Fuel cells generate electricity using an electrochemical process without combustion, combining hydrogen and oxygen to generate power with water and heat as byproducts. They’re quiet, efficient and can run uninterrupted as long as fuel sources remain available.
PEM fuel cells can be integrated into electric vehicles to replace internal combustion engines and batteries used in existing models, providing a clean, safe and scalable power source that can last hundreds of miles between refilling.
Solid oxide fuel cells use hard ceramic compounds to conduct oxygen ions, enabling them to operate at higher temperatures without needing a reformer to extract hydrogen from fuel, but their efficiency is lower and require a platinum catalyst, increasing costs significantly. They can be powered with natural gas or biofuels but their output is much less than PEM fuel cells – currently under development for stationary power applications as well as heavy-duty trucks.