Researchers Believe Electric Vehicle Battery Breakthrough a Decade Away

By Trevor Dorchies | May 11, 2012
High-tech electric cars with high-capacity, quick-recharging batteries are 10 years away. That's been the story for about 30 years. It's a joke, of course, but only barely. The twin holy grails of electrically powered cars—long-range and quick recharging—always seem to be just out of reach. And it's those two characteristics, naysayers insist, that keep the masses from adapting electric vehicles en masse. Now, just as electric cars are starting to really make a presence in the marketplace, we're hearing that the researchers over at Argonne Battery Manufacturing Research and Development Center in Kentucky believe a breakthrough is still 10 years away. “We’re trying to get the (development) time down by getting academicians and industry involved,” Tony Hancock, Argonne's business manager, said to WardsAuto. “But lithium-ion (batteries) will be the solution for the next decade, maybe two.” Hancock believes even if a breakthrough happens earlier rather than later it still won't make it into production for a few years. For the time being, scientists are still exploring how to improve upon lithium-ion technology, which is currently the highest-tech battery available, although some manufacturers are tinkering with lithium-sodium as a viable replacement. Sodium is cheaper than lithium-ion to mass produce, and some scientists believe it has a higher-energy density than a rechargeable battery. This research is still in the infant stages, however. Researchers are also exploring how to reduce the cost of battery packs currently used today. The cost is usually accrued during production courtesy of how unpredictable lithium-ion can be. Results won't come without a snag or two along the way as Hancock referenced the explosion at General Motors battery testing facility last month. GM has said the battery testing had nothing to do with the Volt, which has seen its fair share of ups and downs, and that the battery was a prototype. The investigation is ongoing. Nevertheless, Hancock believes EV technology will reach a place where safety will no longer be a hot-button topic like it is today. “One hundred years ago, if someone had said, ‘We’re going to give you a vehicle to drive around, and right underneath your seat we’re going to store 30 gallons of one of the most-explosive liquids you can imagine,’ everyone would’ve said they’d rather ride a horse,” Hancock told WardsAuto. Ralph Brodd, Argonne's director, says it'll take researchers 10 years to discover Li-ion's potential, yet and even then it will be no match for gasoline. When comparing the two, there's about 13,000 Watt-hours/kg in gasoline and only about 5,000 in a battery. However, this isn't the kiss of death for electric cars that it may seem. Electric cars are generally more efficient in their energy use than those using an internal combustion engine. An EV's battery system can be upwards of 80 to 90 percent efficient when energy is stored correctly in a battery, while a gasoline engine is only 25 percent efficient with its energy output. Either way, EV battery development still has a long way to go and Brodd believes it "won't be quick." What do you think, will the battery technology for electric cars ever reach a widely acceptable level with the general public? Would you buy one? Tell us what you think in the comment section below. Source: WardsAuto