Climate change, a global emergency that threatens to upend the global economic stability and change our way of life. As climate change breathes down the world’s neck, countries have quickly started transitioning to greener energy.
However, as quickly as EVs are becoming prevalent, the rate of improvement of $/KWh of batteries is not fast enough to make EVs as accessible as gas cars to the general public. So, that begs the question, what can be done to make EVs just as accessible as gas cars? The answer lies in refining the heart of EV, battery technology.
The age-old battery technology, called lithium-ion batteries, have been used in almost everything. From electric toothbrushes to mobile phones, lithium-ion batteries dominate the technology scene, including in EVs.
However, along with lithium-ion batteries, there has been ongoing research into hydrogen fuel cells to cleanly power vehicles. While hydrogen fuel cells promise cleaner fuel to power vehicles, it has its’ critics. Elon famously called hydrogen fuel cells as “fool cells” and “mind-boggingly stupid” to use them as power source for vehicles. Critics have often pointed at the process of production, compression and conversion of hydrogen into electricity being highly inefficient.
Speaking to Jeff Dahn—who is a professor in the Department of Physics & Atmospheric Science of Dalhousie and is on the NSERC/Tesla Canada Industrial Research Chair—he said that “In a polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell, 35% of the energy that the solar cell produced or the windmill produced is actually used to drive the car forward.” Further saying that “you would need to build 3 times as many windmills or solar farms compared to powering vehicles with lithium-ion systems”. While, lithium-ion batteries from “solar to charging the batteries is about 95% efficient”.
With increased focus on EVs’ range, further research is being done in refining the lithium-ion batteries. But some companies have refined the battery to charge faster, while others have focused on the number of miles. When asked about the emphasis on superfast charging, Jeff called it “sort of nuts” and, he’s right. With Tesla superchargers spread out across the US and Canada, coupled with EV ranges from 500 km – 600+ km, the issue of superfast charging is practically non-existent.
Refining Battery Technology
Then, what truly is the next step in refining the heart of EV? For Tesla, it is using silicon anode and nickel cathode for the batteries. But for other automotive companies, the answer lies in the next generation of batteries, solid state batteries. Several companies, ranging from Toyota to Honda, have begun investing in and developing solid state batteries.
So, what’s different between solid state and lithium-ion batteries? Solid state batteries show a promise of being safer with a longer lifetime. They also can have a larger energy density than lithium-ion batteries, which makes them attractive for long-range EVs. However, that comes with a big asterisk. As Jeff put it, “solid state batteries are going to be great if they can be made at an acceptable cost … so that you can build a car that people can afford”.
Lithium-ion batteries on the other hand, can be cheaply made because they are being manufactured on a huge scale which leads to cost reductions. Solid state batteries are only just being researched and developed and as such, are incredibly more expensive than lithium-ion batteries.
With time, EVs will be made just as accessible as gas cars through refinements of battery technology. By ultimately bringing the cost of the batteries down of the batteries through improvements, the price of an EV decreases, making EVs more accessible to the general public.