21st November 2015
One of the big obstacles to the uptake of electric vehicles by the masses is the cost of batteries. They need to be big enough to store enough energy for hundreds of miles of driving between charges, yet light enough to not be a drain on the cars carrying them.
“For an electric car, the cost of a battery is crudely the same as the cost of the rest. That is quite the wrong proportion for it to take off. So people are desperate to find ways to supply cheaper batteries,” says Chris Wright, chairman of Faradion, the technology company researching low-cost energy storage solutions.
In an interview with the Guardian, Wright explains that the motor industry needs to find a way to produce batteries that doesn’t rely on lithium, the base element of rechargeable batteries. His company’s answer is sodium – far cheaper to source and with similar energy-storing properties. It means electric vehicles could soon be a more viable option for many, including commuters and drivers who have just passed their test who are looking for an easy-to-use and affordable vehicle to put their skills to use with.
“We set out to make sodium materials that worked in a simple electrochemical [battery] cell that behaved as well as if not better than some of the lithium systems,” Wright says in the interview. “We were able to produce material which outperformed lithium-ion phosphate, which has until recently been the workhorse in automotive batteries.”
Although the sale of electric vehicles has risen sharply over the last year, traditionally-aspirated vehicle sales still far outweigh them. But as the cost of producing electric vehicles’ power plant drops, those savings will be passed onto the marketplace.
Range anxiety – the fear of running out of power and being stranded in the middle of nowhere – is receding. Now motorists are realising how much cheaper it could be to run an electric vehicle, not to mention how much greener it is. Charging a car for a 250-mile journey could cost as little as £5.
Bjӧrn Nykvist and Måns Nilsson, Swedish scientists at the Stockholm Environment Institute, predict a ‘potential paradigm shit in vehicle technology’ if the price of powering electric vehicles continues to fall at the same rate. A report on TechnologyReview.com highlights that the pair’s analysis suggests that battery pack prices are falling by about 8 per cent every year.
That decline in cost could be accelerated if large-scale electric vehicle manufacturers such as Toyota, Tesla and Nissan follow through with their plans to ramp up battery pack production in the near future.
In the same article, Luis Munuera, an International Energy Agency analyst, advised a note of caution with Nykvist and Nilsson’s research. The cost reductions predicted should be ‘taken with care’ he wrote in an email to TechnologyReview.com. This is because battery costs from different sources may not be directly comparable, and it is unclear exactly how far into the future such price predicting is accurate to. But he does admit: “We have seen events moving quicker than expected in lithium-ion battery technology.”