American scientist discovered a way to decrease the size and weight of a lithium-ion battery. But this is not all. Apart from this they discovered how to recharge batteries faster than ever before. This all was published in one of the most popular science magazines called “Nature” . This has huge implications for the electric cars that are about to enter the market.
To come short: they’ve found a way to use existing technology in a different way. They created new circumstances to stimulate faster movement of the ions through the cells of the batteries. One of the circumstances they’ve changed, rather increased, is the temperature during the production process. They’ve also changed the composition of the basic material for the lithium-ion batteries. This technology is supposed to hit the market in less than 3 years.
A lot of electric cars already make use of lithium-ion technology as it’s the latest and best available today. Lead-acid, which was used previously can’t match the performance of the 3D Microbattery. A lot of these electric cars are planned for launch in about 2 years time. This involves a lot of car producers and major producers too. However they are not aware of this development in battery technology. They may use lithium-ion batteries, but not this improved technology which can reduce car weight dramatically. So this development has consequences for both the range and recharge time. The recharge time has been explained in the technology part above. The ions can move faster with the new technology causing faster recharging.
Apart from that the new production process uses less weight. So you may still wonder how can this affect the range of the car. Car builders are constantly balancing the car in terms of weight. A certain type of car must be of a certain amount of weight and must not go beyond that limit. The more batteries you put in the car the more range it will have available. So to come short: more range means more weight. So with the current technology builders will stop at a certain range because of the weight and not because they’re satisfied with the range. A good example of this is the Chevrolet Volt, which is planned for release in 2010. This car has an electric range of 60km. A General Motors CEO then makes up nice stories that they’ve chosen this range because people don’t consume this range completely since their commuting distance is not as far as 60km. A very clever excuse, but the real reason behind this is that the technology didn’t permit them to put more range in the car.
And since their car is about the hit production next year this technology breakthrough arrives too late for General Motors. They took the gamble of being one of the first to produce electric cars for the masses. They were forced to put in a range extender (internal combustion engine) again because the technology didn’t allow them to go fully electric and have an acceptable range as well. Now other players in the market that have a different approach to electric driving than GM will benefit from this. They may have decided to sit back and watch the technology for electric driving develop and hope to jump in at the right time. This approach or strategy will also apply for some potential customers. Loads of people are hesitant to buy something expensive and unknown. They would rather sit back and watch if this new ‘thing’ is a success or still has problems that need to be fixed. Both consumers and car builders have to decide when they start to join in the ‘fun’
Michael Thackeray, “Lithium-ion batteries: An unexpected conductor.” Nature