When it comes to driving electric vehicles, drivers have two concerns: their range, and the amount of time they take to “fill up.” Owners want EVs to have the same level of convenience as their petrol rivals. Accommodating them is dragging down the market and leading to low demand.
So far, automakers haven’t been able to deliver cars that offer the convenience of a petrol car. Tesla is now making vehicles with a range of more than 330 miles, dealing with the range anxiety issues. But its products still take the better part of an hour to charge, meaning lots of long coffee breaks at service stations for long-distance motorists.
Now, though, a new cohort of battery technologies is emerging that promises to deal with these issues and make EVs finally go mainstream. We’re seeing a bunch of firms creating so-called “fast-charging” lithium-ion batteries, potentially completely changing the game.
The new batteries differ considerably from those that came before. They work by substituting graphite elements on their interiors for geranium, a metal that has lower resistance than graphite and allows for higher rates of charge. The new material also reduces the incidence of a process that plagues lithium-ion batteries called “plating” where a kind of residue builds up on the interior surfaces.
In the future, manufacturers could hook standard lithium battery terminals up to cells containing silicone or geranium components, dramatically improving the charge time on electric vehicles.
Other non-lithium-ion technologies are currently in the works. But rolling them out at scale is likely to take several years yet because of supply chain difficulties. Currently, the automotive and smartphone industries revolve around lithium-ion technology. Switching to a new kind of process will be expensive and require a lot of tooling.
That’s why this latest breakthrough in cell technology is so exciting. It will solve a longstanding lithium-ion issue, without requiring any major changes to manufacturing processes. The innovation will help to keep current lithium-ion cells competitive, even as new technologies come to the fore.
It may still take some time before we see these new geranium-based lithium-ion batteries hit the market. Car companies will want to do a lot of testing to make sure that they can stand up to real-world conditions as well as their regular counterparts. They’ll also need to make sure that using them makes economic sense. Performance might be higher, but if unit costs remain stubbornly high, it could affect sales.
Already companies are looking for cheaper battery tech to power their EVs. Renault, for instance, wants to use lithium iron phosphate (LFP) cathodes. These have a lower energy density than the more common nickel manganese cobalt cathodes, but they are much cheaper to build and install. They could also be more stable.
Given that battery costs are currently around 30 percent of the entire cost of electric vehicles, the incentive to find cheaper alternatives that consumers will accept is strong. If vendors could solve the battery problem, it would unleash the electric vehicle market like never before, replacing gasoline-powered vehicles for good.