Electric vehicles hold incredible promise for a future that takes advantage of clean energy. The widespread adoption of electric vehicles would considerably reduce the degree to which the transportation industry relies on fossil fuels and significantly decrease the carbon footprint of the transportation industry.
Unfortunately, there have been significant hurdles to overcome in convincing people that electric vehicles are as safe and reliable as vehicles running on fossil fuels. Technological advancements, particularly new battery technology for electric vehicles, may be on the verge of overcoming many of those hurdles.
What New Battery Technology Is in Development?
Electric vehicles are powered by batteries. The greater the energy storage capacity of the batteries of an electric vehicle, the longer the vehicle can be operated between charges and the more distance can be covered by the vehicle between charges. Increasing the amount of energy available to an electric vehicle is a matter of either adding additional batteries to the vehicle or improving the storage capacity of the batteries.
Increasing storage by adding additional batteries also increases the weight and expense of the vehicle, so increasing the storage capacity of batteries for electric vehicles is a crucial step in the process of making electric vehicles competitive with vehicles powered by fossil fuels.
Current Lithium-Ion Technology for Electric Vehicles
Lithium is highly desirable as a material for creating batteries because of the elements which are potential battery materials, it offers the greatest theoretical capacity and remarkable energy density. The capacity of a battery is how much energy it can release before it is fully discharged. Energy density indicates how much energy can be stored in relation to volume.
Lithium does pose two significant challenges as a component of batteries. One challenge is that lithium batteries can develop filaments called dendrites on the surfaces of their electrodes. These dendrites can lead to short circuits within the battery that can lead to the electrolytes in the battery catching on fire. Structural damage from short circuits can also lead to battery explosions if lithium reacts with water. Water vapor present in the air can be sufficient to cause such a reaction.
Lithium-ion battery technology, which is currently commonly used in electric vehicles, uses graphite anodes instead of lithium metal anodes. This prevents dendrites from forming in the battery. Unfortunately, while lithium-ion technology is able to address the concerns posed by dendrite formation, it comes at the cost of significantly decreasing energy density. Fully charging a present-day lithium-ion battery capable of powering a vehicle could take between twenty and fifty hours.
New Battery Technology for Electric Vehicles
Researchers at many public and private institutions are working on developing new battery technologies. While there are numerous potential proposed methods to increase the energy capacity and energy density of batteries, two very promising avenues of development are batteries that use a solid-state ceramic electrolyte and batteries that incorporate a phosphorus and sulfur compound into a liquid electrolyte solution.
Solid-State Ceramic Electrolyte
There is a new battery technology developed by the University of Michigan that makes use of a solid-state ceramic electrolyte to prevent the formation of dendrites. The ceramic layer stabilizes the surface of the lithium metal and is able to prevent the formation of dendrites and eliminate concerns about short circuits within the battery without sacrificing energy density and conductivity.
Earlier attempts to create lithium metal batteries in a similar fashion met with difficulties when the lithium metal was able to grow through the ceramic even at low charging rates, which caused short circuits similar to those seen with liquid electrolytes. The new battery technology developed by the University of Michigan makes use of both chemical and mechanical treatments to facilitate an extremely even lithium plating which suppresses the production of dendrites and filaments.
Vehicle batteries crafted with this new battery technology are able to be fully charged in as little as three hours, a remarkable improvement in charging time.
Phosphorus and Sulfur Compound with Liquid Electrolyte Solution
Another new battery technology involves the addition of a phosphorus and sulfur compound to a liquid electrolyte solution and negative electrodes made of lithium metal. The phosphorus and sulfur compound bonds to the lithium metal, forming a very thin coating over the electrode that prevents water from coming into contact with the lithium metal.
This new battery technology dramatically increases the energy density of batteries, allowing for increased drive time and distance between battery charges.
Why This New Battery Technology Is Important
New Battery Technology Can Increase the Adoption of Electric Vehicles
Consumers will not begin widespread adoption of electric vehicles until electric vehicles are comparable to fossil fuel-powered vehicles both in terms of affordability and in terms of convenience and reliability. Electric vehicles do have the potential to realize marked environmental benefit.
Some of the environmental benefits offered by electric vehicles occur due to the following reasons:
While there are still some legitimate concerns about electric vehicles, much progress is being made in addressing these issues. New battery technology addresses some of these issues, like limited drive time and drive distance between battery charges and battery charge times that are impractical for many drivers. Other concerns, like affordability and insufficient infrastructure to support electric vehicles, are also being addressed.
New Battery Technology Doesn't Only Benefit Electric Vehicles
New Battery Technology for Fossil Fuel-Powered Vehicles
Mazda is interested in using lithium-ion batteries made with new battery technologies to replace the lead-acid starter batteries installed in vehicles running on fossil fuels and hopes to have a viable alternative ready for use by 2021. This new battery technology needs to prove able to work for long periods of time in hot conditions and needs to continue to prevent fire or explosion even following a collision.
Using lithium-ion starter batteries in place of lead-acid starter batteries in vehicles will reduce vehicle weight and reduce the amount of lead used in manufacturing vehicle batteries.
New Battery Technology Supports the Broader Green Energy Industry
Many forms of green energy are limited in adoption because of limitations on energy collection and storage. Batteries with increased energy density and increased charging utility not only benefit electric vehicles but also help to support alternative energy use more broadly. Solar power, wind power, and wave power are intermittent and reliant on energy storage in batteries in order to meet our energy needs in a consistently available fashion.
New Battery Technology for Electric Vehicles: Are They a Myth or Not?
Promising new developments in new battery technology for electric vehicles definitely continue to emerge. While some of those potential developments may be far away from implementation, others are much closer. Two new battery technologies that are closer to implementation are solid-state ceramic electrolyte batteries and batteries with phosphorous and sulfur compounds added to liquid electrolyte solutions. These advances allow both for increased energy density in batteries and for a remarkable decrease in battery charging times.
Electric vehicles have made and continue to make significant progress toward being as affordable and convenient as vehicles reliant on fossil fuels. This tipping point may not be in the immediate future, but the promise of new battery technology to make electric vehicles competitive with fossil fuel-powered vehicles is certainly no myth.
Electric vehicles have proven to have remarkable potential for a future for a more environmentally-friendly transportation industry. Electric vehicles produce fewer emissions over the course of their lifetime when compared to vehicles powered by fossil fuels. Electric vehicles do not produce the small particles that can enter the bloodstream when inhaled that are produced by combustion engines.
The batteries used by electric vehicles involve less lead in the manufacturing process compared to lead-acid batteries and are comprised of roughly 95% recyclable materials. There are some valid concerns raised about electric vehicles. Consumers will not embrace electric vehicles until they are as affordable, safe, reliable, and convenient as fossil-fuel powered vehicles.
Reaching this point will require the development of new battery technologies, additional infrastructure to allow for ample charging opportunities, and for costs of electric vehicles to continue to lower. Major points of concern include the travel range of electric vehicles between battery charges and the time it takes to charge the batteries for electric vehicles.
While significant advances have been made on these issues, it can seem like electric vehicles will not catch up to fossil fuel-powered vehicles in these areas. Significant developments in new battery technology, however, are bringing this point of rough equivalence much closer. Researchers are developing innovative approaches to increase the safety, energy density, and charging speed of the batteries that are used in electric vehicles.
Of particular interest in the near future are the use of solid-state ceramic electrolytes and the use of liquid electrolyte solutions that incorporate phosphorus and sulfur compounds. These technologies allow for batteries that make greater use of the properties of lithium, particularly its energy density and conductivity.