A battery revolution is charging ahead
New technologies and pioneering eco-innovations that may make it easier and cheaper to own and run a zero-emission vehicle are coming thick and fast.
Battery research and development is pivotal to providing this greener, sleeker EV driving experience. However, computer chips and operating systems have been the heroes in the road to zero, while batteries have been the weakest link. The battery underdogs have been criticised for under-delivering with limited driving ranges and frustratingly slow charge times.
Car manufacturers are committed to tackling the limitations of lithium-ion batteries head-on.
The woes and worries over ‘range anxiety’ and ‘long charging times’ could soon be a thing of the past. Battery solutions offering more than 500 miles of range between charges, which take mere minutes to get you back on the road should soon be mainstream, not a pipedream.
Some of the best brains around the globe are dedicated to getting an EV in every household garage and full EV fleets on every business forecourt. R&D budgets are being channelled into making it happen, which is good news for drivers, business owners, fleet managers and environmentalists alike.
The race to reduce battery charging times to make them comparable to refuelling at the pump is on.
Universities, large tech corporates and car manufacturers through to green SMEs and start-ups are all vying to be the first to create the fastest-charging, longest-life battery that doesn’t cost the earth.
Here we future gaze into six innovations that could transform the battery life of private electric vehicles and business fleets.
Six battery innovations transforming the future of EVs
We are on the cusp of a battery revolution. Think the unthinkable and imagine the unimageable, and it could soon be a reality. Five years ago, driverless cars would have seemed utterly ridiculous. Twenty years ago, electric cars were virtually unheard of. Fifty years ago, the thought of throwing away our A-Z maps in favour of in-car navigation systems would have been laughed at. When it comes to transport tech, never say never. Yes, you could soon be choosing between a car charged by sand or barley husk ash batteries and driving to work and back courtesy of wi-fi.
From turning silicone, sand and seawater into flawless and fast EV power, we take a look at today’s research that will lead to new battery innovations for tomorrow’s electric vehicles.
Look out lithium-ion. Your days could be numbered…
1. ‘Free-from’ batteries
Cobalt is one of the core materials used in lithium-ion batteries. However, it’s expensive and often sourced from regions with significant environmental and human rights concerns. As a result, many companies and universities are working on ‘cobalt-free’ battery technologies.
Tesla and CATL, one of the largest automotive lithium-ion battery manufacturers in the world, are working on producing cost-effective cobalt-free or reduced-cobalt batteries. Meanwhile, SVOLT is manufacturing cobalt-free batteries for the EV market which they claim will provide a vehicle range of up to 500 miles on a single charge.
Researchers at Sydney University have found a way to make zinc-air batteries, which are also safer than lithium-ion as they cannot catch on fire.
The University of Eastern Finland, meanwhile, has developed a method to replace graphite with silicone, which has ten times the capacity to improve battery performance. Sourcing this silicone is also more environmentally friendly as it is made from barley husk ash – so it’s a win-win for performance and the planet.
Cheaper, greener and safer batteries are heading your way.
2. Size matters
Solid-state batteries – which will halve the weight, size and cost of current liquid-based batteries – are a potential gamechanger for the EV market. They provide reduced charging times, increased driving capacity and reduced fire risk. Heralded as a major breakthrough for the electric vehicle market, the introduction of these solid-state batteries should be in place as early as 2025.
3. Seawater batteries
Yes, you read that right! IBM Research has discovered a new battery chemistry that is free from heavy metals and can out-perform lithium-ion batteries – all courtesy of marine mother nature. It may sound unbelievable, but the materials are indeed extracted from seawater. Working with Mercedes-Benz to develop the progressive technology, IBM claim these batteries will be cheaper and more powerful than their lithium-ion predecessors – and will charge faster.
4. From beach to battery
Researchers at the University of California Riverside are working on battery technology that uses sand as the core material. Who would ever have believed that a beach could be transformed into a battery? The sand is used to create pure silicon to achieve three times better performance and a longer lifespan than current graphite-based, lithium-ion batteries.
A battery startup company called Silnano is being funded by Daimler and BMW to bring this 40% boost in battery performance technology to the market in the near future.
5. Go graphene
A company called Graphenano is developing a graphene battery that will offer an estimated range of 500 miles and can be recharged in just a few minutes – that’s 33 times faster than lithium-ion. This could mean big battery business for this Spanish manufacturer. They claim that their experimental car drove 1,100 miles on a single battery charge, which could leave sea and sand batteries standing. Is graphene the greener way to go? Watch this space.
6. Powering up your car using wi-fi
Imagine charging your phone – and car while your drive! Although in the early stages of R&D, wi-fi charging could pave the way for hassle-free and cable-free charging at home, or even while driving on roads equipped with charging pads.
When the vehicle is parked on, or drives over, the pad, energy is transferred wirelessly from the pad to the receiver and then to the vehicle’s battery. ‘Charge-as-you-drive’ motoring may sound like a scene from a sci-fi film but wi-fi driving could be coming to a road near you soon.
Better battery life
These game-changing battery innovations mean that a future where EVs are cheaper to buy, have longer ranges, shorter charging times, longer battery life, and less environmental impact could be mainstream, sooner rather than later.
The downside of battery innovation is that recycling is complex and costly. Different manufacturers use different designs and materials, making a standardised recycling process virtually impossible. However, scientists at the University of California are currently working on batteries that will never die.
These immortal gold nanowires are a thousand times thinner than a human hair. Small but mighty, these miniscule wires could prove to be bigger than any EV battery we’ve ever seen.