by Ken Hendricks, EVfriendly project manager
Has EV battery technology peaked, or are there new discoveries waiting for us down the road? Battery technology has come a long way since the early days. Earlier models of the Nissan Leaf, for instance, with its 24 kWh battery, had a limited range of about 120–160 kilometres. Fast forward to today, and the new Lucid Air, with a 112 kWh battery, boasts a range of over 600 kilometres. Yet, while range anxiety is no longer the obstacle it once was to purchasing an EV, improving battery technology remains the goal for many companies striving to meet the growing demand for electric vehicles.
There are many reasons for this, even beyond increasing range. Increasing energy density is one. EVs weight more than their internal-combustion counterparts. The ability to store more energy into a smaller size battery will not only increase range and power but will also reduce its weight, which in turn will add to its range. Another advantage of improving battery technology is making batteries live longer.
EV Battery Charge Cycles
Battery life is measured in cycles. A cycle is when you use up all of the battery’s power, from 100% straight down to zero. A Tesla can currently be charged up to about 1,500 cycles and can have a life of up to 500,000 kilometres. However, batteries also degrade overtime, so the new EV that drove you 400 kilometres on full charge when it was new will only get you 70% of that in 8 to 10 years. Battery degradation varies with make and model. To learn more about battery performance, check out https://www.recurrentauto.com/for-owners.
Most manufacturers warranty their batteries for up to 8 years or 160,000 kilometres, although many batteries can live well past their warranty expiration. Based on 60 kilometres of daily travel, a Tesla can potentially live up to 20 to 30 years. But can we extend the life of a battery even further?
How to Extend the Life of EV Batteries
To create a million-mile EV battery, several challenges would need to be overcome. One major challenge is developing a battery chemistry that is both highly durable and stable over long periods of time. This would require advances in our understanding of battery degradation mechanisms and the development of new materials that can resist these processes. Another challenge is ensuring that the battery can withstand the stresses of repeated charge and discharge cycles over such a long lifespan. This would require advances in battery management systems and charging technology to ensure that the battery remains within safe operating conditions.
Research conducted at Dalhousie University has produced some initial test results that would greatly expand the lifespan of lithium-ion battery cells. However, these cells are still in their test stage and they have no real world application yet. There is ongoing research and development in the field of EV batteries, yet it is not clear when or if a million-mile EV battery will ever become commercially viable. Yet even incremental improvements in battery technology can significantly increase the lifespan and performance of EV batteries, making them more practical and cost-effective for a wider range of applications.
Positive and Negative Effects of the Longer-Lasting Batteries
How much range, energy density, or even potential lifespan is optimal for an EV? While it may seem exciting to think we can produce a battery that could outlive the vehicle it powers, there could be unintended consequences to this. We can learn something about this from history and the manufacturing of light bulbs. Unlike EV batteries, changing a light bulb is fairly easy with minimal expense. But that didn’t stop innovators from trying to develop a light bulb that would last for generations.
The Centennial light bulb, dubbed the “forever” light bulb, was manufactured at the turn of the century and has been burning continuously since 1901 in a fire station in Livermore, California. But manufacturers have focused on creating bulbs that are more energy-efficient and longer-lasting than traditional incandescent bulbs, rather than trying to create a bulb that will last forever.
There are good reasons for this that apply to manufacturing the million-mile battery. Manufacturing a battery that could outlive the vehicle and last one, two, or even three million miles would be counterproductive to society as it would create unintended consequences that could have negative impacts on the economy, the environment, and quality of life.
While longer lasting batteries could have a positive effect on the environment in terms of the need for mining of critical minerals, it would significantly reduce the demand for battery repair, replacements, or second-life energy storage applications. The ultimate disposal of these batteries will also pose a challenge as they may contain materials that are difficult to recycle or dispose of economically.
Lastly, the development of a million-mile battery could discourage innovation and advancements in battery technology. Such innovations that could pave the way for new environmentally-sustainable technology and lower production costs that can make EVs accessible and affordable for everyone.