There are numerous types of vehicles that now use a battery as its sole motive force, and whether you call them BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) or something else, the fact remains that they’re here to stay, and they aren’t just ‘making up the numbers’ – they are a very real and viable alternative source of transport.
The battery has always been the key to mass-marketing of any EV, to making it a viable option against fossil-fuel, both in terms of range and cost. Between 2008 – 2014, the cost of electric vehicle batteries reduced by more than 35%. In fact, since the mass production started (around 2010), battery costs have plummeted from around $1,000 per kWh to approximately $190 per kWh.
Experts predict that when the cost hits between $125 – 150 per kWh, electric vehicles should be comparable in cost to their unleaded or diesel equivalents.
Automotive technologies, particularly batteries, are under a constant cycle of development and change, just this year alone (6 months), Venture Capitalists have invested over $1 billion in new battery technology, making it one of the fastest growing industries – it’s said that the market will be worth in the region of $37 billion by 2020.
However, extensive developments to battery technology are still in the pipeline – recharge times vastly reduced, ranges extended and an increase in power available are just three key areas that are under scrutiny – what’s ‘innovative’ today, will be old news tomorrow.
As an example, FISKER Automotive have announced details of a new solid-state battery, capable of delivering a 700-mile range with a charge time of just one minute, and unlike a number of claims, there seems to be some credence behind it.
They’re currently working on prototypes, and initially announced a production date of 2023, but further advances in technology mean that they are now hoping for a 2020 production cycle.
The future of fossil fuels
Oil companies have often been accused of killing technology that would compete against their dominance of powering the world’s vehicles, but BP have bucked that trend by investing $20 million in an EV battery startup – StoreDot. Tufan Erginbilgic from BP said “We are committed to be the fuel provider of choice, regardless of vehicle.”
StoreDot are developing battery technology based on lithium ion batteries, their USP is ultra-fast charge times – a 5-minute charge should be enough to power a vehicle for 300-miles, and as part of their development process, the technology will be used in a number of devices, including mobile phones – the first production rollout for mobile batteries will happen in 2019.
The disadvantages of batteries
Whatever your views on EVs, the fact is that they’re happening – we will see an unleaded and diesel ban in 2040, diesel vehicles are coming under further pressure and constraints, and although there are still manufacturers working on clean-air technology for diesel, sales are plummeting, as opposed to EV sales which are on the up. But are they the wonder cure that everyone is hoping for?
For many, being ‘green’ is as much about ethics as it is saving the planet, but typically, electric vehicle batteries are lithium based, and use a mixture of cobalt, graphite, manganese and nickel, but over 60% of the world’s cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has a horrendous human rights record – should that be overlooked for the sake of the cobalt supply?
Further still, yet less political, it seems that a number of battery or EV manufacturers are creating their own proprietary charging systems, and when the world has gone ‘all electric’, will we have to choose an electric vehicle based upon the available charging system? Can’t battery manufacturers develop one singular charging system?
We also need to consider end-of-life strategies for batteries. The average battery life is around 8 years, and due to the scale of the problem currently, there are no firm plans in place for disposal of the batteries, which, thanks to their properties, can’t just be ‘thrown away.’ Nobody knows what should happen to the dangerous elements in 15 years’ time when there are millions of batteries being disposed.
The future is bright
Undoubtedly, EVs are the way forward: less pollution, cheaper to run, quieter and it shouldn’t be long before the purchase price is comparable to a fossil fuelled vehicle. Questions are being asked as to whether the national grid can handle the extra load (currently no), and there’s also an issue of where the Government will find the lost revenue from VED and fuel duty, which is currently around £28 billion per year.
Whilst it’s true that EVs could save the planet, there needs to be a huge injection of public money into the infrastructure to make them work, and until then, no matter how good the batteries are, you could just be limited by the support infrastructure.