At its core, an electric car is little more than a mobile housing for its battery. The battery is the most critical part of the electric car and makes up the lion’s share of its manufacturing cost. This electricity storing wonder has made the idea of widespread commercial adoption of electric vehicles possible.
If you are thinking about purchasing an electric car or already own one, it is essential to know the facts about different kinds of batteries and how to prolong their lives. Gone is the need to know the thousands of ins and outs of an internal combustion engine, but a working knowledge of your battery is now just as important.
What Sets It Apart
Functionally, an electric car’s battery works the same as any other. It stores electricity to be accessed on demand. But how it achieves that and just how much juice it can provide is where it becomes future-tech. Being able to go the distance and withstand thousands of recharges is what makes electric cars possible.
What It Isn’t
Cars have had batteries for decades, but they are biplanes compared to the 747s under the hoods of electric cars. Internal combustion engine vehicles use Starting, Lighting and Ignition (SLI) batteries that are designed to start the car, run the lights and not much else. These batteries are designed to discharge quickly and recharge just as fast. Completely discharging an SLI battery takes minimal effort, and negatively impacts long-term battery life.
Electric car batteries are designed to be deep-cycle batteries. They are meant to routinely discharge most of their current before taking a recharge. These frequent and long discharges don’t affect their battery life nearly as much as other batteries, so they may be reliably used daily for long periods of time.
So, why batteries? Besides the convenience of charging them at home and the environmental benefits, is it worth it if the electric car battery cost is so high? Well, that depends greatly on how much and how you use it. Consider this, however. A car that gets 35 miles to the gallon costs about 10 cents to operate per mile, and that’s generous. An electric car, with its expensive battery, costs only 2 cents to operate per mile.
The reason for this is that storing electricity in a battery is a much more efficient way to retrieve energy rather than burning something combustible. An internal combustion car uses less than 30 percent of the energy gained by igniting gasoline. Over 70 percent of the energy released is lost from heat exhaust and friction. Electric car batteries, on the other hand, sit at around 90 percent or more.
The Different Types of Electric Car Batteries
There are a lot of battery types out there. Researchers are constantly looking for new and better ways to store energy, as the battery’s performance to weight ratio is the main stumbling block for better electric cars. Advancements are still coming, and every year there is more electric car battery news. Here are a few of the main kinds of batteries manufacturers have tried so far.
- Lead Acid Batteries: These are your traditional types of car batteries. They consist of cells flooded with an acid solution. They don’t do well when discharged below 50 percent capacity and are decidedly low-tech for electric car use. At least as a primary power source.
- Nickel Metal Hydride: These batteries have a very high energy density and can hold a big charge. They are also safer to dispose of than most other battery types. However, they have several downside quirks including lower efficiency, rapid loss of charge when not in use, irregular charge cycles, and a host of performance problems that arise in cold weather.
- Molten Salt: This technology is not used much for commercial purposes. Molten salt batteries are non-toxic and perform well, but the battery must be heated to 520 degrees Fahrenheit which causes a lot of storage and operations difficulties.
- Lithium-Ion: The most common type of rechargeable battery. These batteries have excellent energy density and efficiency but suffer from battery life limitations. Also, some of the components are toxic and require special recycling procedures. However, lithium-ion technology is still in its emerging stage, and significant advancements are expected in the next decade.
How Long Do Electric Car Batteries Last?
Understandably, the battery life of an electric car is one of the main concerns when deciding to buy one. Since it is the most expensive part of the car and one of the few that need replacing, how long it lasts will greatly impact your operation costs.
The good news is that it doesn’t work the same way as an internal combustion engine. The battery will not die on you someday leaving you stranded because a key component wore out. The electric car’s battery will slowly lose maximum capacity over its lifetime, meaning it will go shorter and shorter distances before needing to be recharged.
There’s no need to be alarmed. The change is gradual and not drastic. Battery life changes depending on type and manufacturer, but researchers estimate that a lithium-ion battery, the most common type found in electric cars, and go through 300-500 full discharge cycles before being reduced to 70 percent capacity. This means that the battery can be charged and drained completely 500 times and still work, but it will only hold 70 percent as much charge as it did when it was new.
It’s hard to gauge how long the battery will last until you need or want to get it replaced. In distance terms, Tesla claims that its Model S will only lose 15% of its capacity on average after being driven 150,000 miles. Some owners have claimed even longer life. How does it achieve this long battery life? Tesla batteries are top of the line, but how you drive is just as important, if not more so, than what you drive.
How to Prolong Electric Car Battery Life
The reason that the data is hazy on exactly how long an electric car battery will last is that you can significantly improve its lifespan just by taking some precautions and using it correctly. Here are some of the most effective methods to get the most out of your battery.
1. Do Not Allow the Car to Sit At 100 Percent Charge
Keeping the battery topped up at maximum capacity for extended periods of time puts undue stress on the battery. After a while, this can greatly reduce the battery’s life cycle. If you absolutely need a full charge for a long trip, try and time it so that it reaches full capacity right as you leave. For general use, however, look for the charge settings and use the “standard” (or similarly named) setting for charging which will stop charging at about 90 percent.
2. Do Not Fully Discharge the Battery
Just as keeping the battery overflowing can harm it, so too can leaving it too low. Long periods of time at under 30 percent have a negative impact, as does completely draining it to zero. Keep the battery topped up by charging it every night, so it stays above the minimum. It is a delicate balancing act, but it lengthens lives and saves money.
3. Manage the Battery’s Temperature
A lithium-ion battery must always have its temperature regulated to make sure it operates at peak performance and does not degrade. Excess heat can damage the battery and cut its life short. Heat can be a big enough problem that some manufacturers make special batteries designed for hot climates with extra safeguards.
For average users, avoid parking in direct sunlight on hot days and keep an eye on the temperature. It is rarer, but extremely cold temperatures can have a negative impact as well. Park indoors in freezing weather and plug in wherever possible to keep the thermoregulation system activated without draining the battery.
4. Avoid Quick Charging Where Possible
Many electric cars use quick charge systems that rapidly charge batteries to extend a trip. These take a toll on battery life, however, and will result in faster degradation. Stick to slow charging whenever possible.
Live Long and Prosper
Electric cars are much cheaper and easier to own and operate than internal combustion engine vehicles, but that doesn’t mean owners can rest on their laurels. You don’t need to memorize thousands of moving parts, but you should have a good understanding of the most vital and expensive part of the vehicle. The battery is the heart of any electric car and needs proper care to live up to its fullest potential.