Next Gen EV Batteries Really a Decade Away?

The U.S. Department of Energy has again pegged a nice round number of one decade for how long the world needs to wait till next generation batteries become commercially viable – again.

As cynics point out, the “decade away,” statement has been bandied about by the DoE so many times, it’s often hard to believe it anymore.

That said, the advances we’re witnessing in EV battery technology today were those first pioneered around 10 years ago. For example, the transition from nickel metal hydride to lithium ion chemistry was something that was predicted a decade ago. And according to Tony Hancock, of the DoE’s Kentucky-Argonne Battery Manufacturing and R&D Center, we’re still in the early stages of lithium ion technology with plenty of room for improvement.

Hancock also said in an interview with Ward’s Auto, that even if we realized a breakthrough in battery technology today, it would still be several years before it could actually be implemented for passenger car use.

“We’re trying to get academians and industry involved (to help reduce battery development time),” said Hancock. Yet he also noted that lithium ion technology will be around for a while yet; possibly as long as a couple of decades.

The biggest hurdle facing widespread acceptance of EV lithium ion battery packs, has been the perceived lack of ability to reduce manufacturing costs to make them more affordable, as well as curbing their volatility.

Lithium ion battery packs have come under scrutiny in recent months following an explosion at one of GM’s advanced battery development labs at its Technology Center campus in Warren, Mich. Another has been vehicle fires; namely concerning the Chevy Volt which saw its battery smolder after a side-impact crash test last year damaged its li-ion pack and the authorities did not “depower” it as recommended.

So, given the predictions of folks like Hancock, what exactly can we expect to see in the future? Possibly lithium sodium batteries; since sodium is more readily available than lithium and boasts a high energy density relative to its mass, making the concept of reduced manufacturing costs and hence lower battery prices, more feasible.

And, using the old DoE rule of thumb, if it’s being brought to the table right now, you can probably bet with a good deal of certainty that lithium sodium batteries will start proliferating on vehicles roughly a decade from now. Nevertheless, at this juncture, it still appears lithium ion is in for the long haul.

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  • Max Reid

    Current technology Lithium batteries are good enough to take the car for 50 mile range with the rest coming from gas engine.

    Infact, if we add ultra capacitors, more regenerative energy can be captured and the range can be expanded.

    Already 1 Russian company is going to roll out a Hybrid with ultracapacitors.

  • Van

    I am hoping the next generation Lithium car battery will hit the showrooms in 2015, just as Nissan said a few years back. I would guess mum is the word because folks might wait and not buy the first generation cars. Anyway, that is my dream and I am sticking with it. 🙂

  • MJS

    I find it interesting how there is so much concern with battery volatility (especially when so many of the recent events have been found to be problems external to the batteries themselves), yet we all have no worries when driving around town in vehicles with a tank of gasoline sloshing around with us. I belileve I read that there were 200,000+ vehicle fires last year, yet there is no public panic about gasoline tanks – perception will eventually change, but it will take longer if the media insists on their mode of sensationalist reporting.

  • billy

    LOL can u imagine having a bettery like that in a flashlight!!!!


  • Ivan

    I am working on the lithium ion battery. I am so disappointed that after so many papers published on the top journals, yet none of them becomes commercial…

  • John K.

    Do ultracaps degrade w/time or usage the way batteries do?

    Is ultracaps performance as temperature sensitive as batteries?

  • Roy_H

    John K, The whole advantage of a capacitor vs battery is that the capacitor has no chemical change, just electron flow. As such its life is almost infinite and rate of charge/discharge limited only by the wiring. Capacitors will work over extreme temperature ranges. BUT capacitors are bulky and expensive vs batteries.

  • Roy_H

    I really don’t think that lithium is all that rare, and only limited because there has not been a long time large demand to mine lithium. Sodium is heavier than lithium, but otherwise would be an acceptable substitute. I really don’t see why the industry would switch over to sodium.

    The breakthrough that is needed is a high performance cathode. There are several high performance anodes, about 10x better than current tech but need a matching cathode. Even without an optimum cathode, I think we will be seeing 3x improvement within the next 4 years as there are several companies working on solid-state batteries and the improved anode will help.

  • Roy_H

    Just noticed the statement about lithium-sodium battery. This makes no sense as it should be a lithium-ion or sodium-ion battery not a combination. Now there is promise of lithium-sulfur, and I think this has greater potential of commercial success than most people.

  • SolarManke

    Any word on the dev of carbon armature nanotube batteries? I have heard of lighter 80KWh types fitting in small sedans. Range and charge speed to beat the daylights out of ICE.

  • JimH

    I have been watching Altairnano’s lithium-titanate based battery systems for several years and it baffles me why they are never discussed in press such as this. It seems their technology is far better for EV’s than anything else on the market. Are people aware of them? Does anyone know why they are rarely discussed? Their batteries allow a 15 minute recharge that would make cross country travel practical.
    They are a US company but are now partnering with companies in China to build EV’s. The DOD has bought their mega batteries to act as UPS’s for battle ships.

  • Roy_H

    SolarManke; Googled carbon armature nanotube batteries and came up blank. Armature is the rotating winding of an electric motor, not part of a battery. There was a company, EcoloCap from Nevada (I think) that was importing Korean Lithium nano phosphate fork lift batteries and making outrageous claims of performance, they actually managed to get people to invest in their stock, but it turned out to be a scam and are no longer in business.

    However Carbon Nanotube batteries (actually Lithium-Sulfur batteries with carbon nanotube cathodes) have great promise but some practical set-backs. The Achilies Heel of Lithium-Sulfur has been the cathode that quickly gets clogged up and has a life of 10 to 50 recharge cycles. The carbon nanotube coated with thin layer of sulfur, keeps the sulfur in place so it doesn’t clump up. This solution invented by Dr. Nazar of Waterloo University. But there are more issues to be solved which I am not so clear on. In order to get the maximum power from the Lithium-Sulfur design, the lithium atoms combine in different numbers with 4 or 5 chemical compounds, each at a different voltage potential. So a fully charged battery cell would be about 4 volts, and it would drop step-wise as it goes through each chemical change to about 1.5 volts at end. This is not well suited for normal applications where near constant output is desired. The longest single step is about 2.1 volts, and if you just run it in this range it would still be better than a lithium-ion battery.

  • Roy_H

    Jim H; The Toshiba batteries in the iMiEV are lithium-titanate. Toshiba has managed to get the cost down, the batteries from Altairnano are very expensive. Lithium-titanate has extremely long life and has other great properties like high charge/discharge rates and good safety. However they are heavy, this and the expense is why the iMiEV has such a short range, but can be charged several times a day without concern about shortening the life of the battery.

  • Todd

    Open comment but I have not heard alot about what happens to used batteries. Are they reusable at some level and what are used batteries impact on the environment? Finally, how did the predictions for replacement batteries getting cheaper with time, made 10 years ago, fare? I ask because my 06 Prius battery died at 105k and had it replaced for $3400(although covered by Toyota, awesome!). As I recall, 3000 was the reported replacement cost when I bought the car!(I understand inflation and whatnot but a much decreased price did not materialize as I had heard predicted)

  • Roy_H

    Todd, price reductions are happening, but in the case of your Toyota, the battery manufacturing has not become a commodity, that is it is only made by Toyota, not a number of battery manufacturers competing for market share. When you were quoted the initial price from Toyota, Toyota was making and selling them at a loss. Now that the production rate is much higher, they are probably actually making some small profit.

  • Roy_H

    I thought I would embellish a little about Altairnano batteries. There is a company that planned to use Altairnano batteries. They stated that the battery cost was $120k per car. The business plan was based on the false assumption that other car manufacturers would pay up to $150k per car for the CARB credits. Phoenix went bankrupt without selling any cars. They came out of bankruptcy and tried to re-start with Electrovaya lithium-polymer batteries (like Chevy Volt batteries), but still not successful.

  • TST

    When we can get batteries to charge faster and last longer the EV market will rapidly grow. I think it will be quicker than 10 years though!

  • snake