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.