Tesla's much anticipated “Battery Day” event will be held on September 22. One can be sure that Tesla’s boss, Elon Musk, will use the great interest in the event to not only announce new developments but to celebrate them. In the run-up to the event there has been a lot of good news for electric cars and their batteries.
Electric vehicle batteries have often been considered too large and too expensive and the range too short; however, the pace of improvement is fast. For example, Volkswagen specifies the range of its new ID.3 electric compact car, which the company started delivering earlier this month, at 420 kilometers (around 260 miles), in accordance with the WLTP standard. However, a series production ID.3 has already managed to drive from VW’s production facility in Zwickau, Germany, to Schaffhausen, Switzerland, a journey of 530 kilometers (about 330 miles). BMW's first all-electric SUV, the iX3, which is scheduled for launch in China at the end of the year and in Europe in 2021, has a regular WLTP range of 520 kilometers. As expected, Tesla is also the leader in this field. The Model 3 Long Range only has to stop at the charging station after 560 kilometers (350 miles). Last year, the Model S broke through the 400-mile mark, which corresponds to about 640 kilometers.
New technological breakthroughs
A group of researchers from Dalhousie University in Canada achieved a "breakthrough" with lithium metal cells. Compared to lithium-ion cells, they can store around 60% more electricity in the same space or weight. However, there is still one catch: the number of charging cycles. The researchers were recently able to quadruple this number from 50 to 200, a marked improvement but still far from being enough.
Solid-state batteries are likely to come before that, which will also enable a much longer range. Toyota has already announced that series vehicles equipped accordingly will be available in 2025. Originally, the car company had planned to present the technology at the Olympic Games this year.
Besides the range, the charging time of the batteries is often criticized. On this front, too, there has been significant progress. Skeleton Technologies, for example, is working on batteries based on ultracapacitors. Together with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the specialist from Estonia is developing a graphene battery that is to be smaller and lighter than conventional batteries. In addition, it should be possible to recharge it in only 15 seconds. However, this “super battery” is much more expensive than lithium-ion batteries. Skeleton themselves speak of a "complementary technology." For example, graphene batteries in hybrid vehicles could supplement the combustion engines or, in electric vehicles combined with lithium-ion batteries, save space for the batteries and the charging times.
There are also highly interesting advancements in the charging technology itself. Up to now, electricity has always flowed from the charging station into the battery. However, several car companies are now testing the so-called bidirectional charging. In this case, the electric car can also discharge electricity into a charging station. Fiat Chrysler calls the concept "Vehicle-to-Grid" or “V2G.” This is intended to optimize the power supply. If there is a surplus in the grids, the electric cars can absorb it and store it temporarily. If there is a shortage of electricity, they can then feed the stored electricity back into the grid. This technology has what it takes to make renewable energies base-load capable. In addition to Fiat Chrysler, BMW is also working on bidirectional charging. However, the Japanese car manufacturers are the most advanced here. The Nissan Leaf with a feed-back into the power grid has been approved in Germany since 2018.
Batteries are not only becoming more and more powerful but more and more affordable - primarily due to new production processes and more efficient battery design, which Tesla is expected to present on Battery Day. It is obvious that these developments will further increase the attractiveness of e-cars. With all of these developments, one aspect that is not to be forgotten: all innovations continue to use lithium as the core battery raw material.