While lithium ion batteries are all the rage in the electric vehicle industry, the U.S. government has confirmed that researchers at Princeton University have been awarded a near $1 million grant to look at developing commercially viable alkaline batteries for the electric vehicle industry. This is part of the $36 million Department of Energy’s "Robust Affordable Next Generation Energy Storage Systems" program which was announced recently.
Those of a certain age will be well aware of alkaline batteries which first emerged back in 1958 and while some may see this as a step back in time, they may well offer a more cost-efficient means of powering electric vehicles in the medium to longer term.
Battery pack costs
When you bear in mind that the cost per kilowatt hour stood at $700 in 2012 and is expected to fall to around $250 per kilowatt hour by 2015, progress is being made within the battery technology industry. Battery packs are a massive element of the overall cost of an electric vehicle and while there is an understanding that technology in this area needs to improve, perhaps we need to go back to basics to move forward?
Quote from ElectricForum.com : "Israeli company Phinergy is today taking centre stage within the electric vehicle market amid rumours of a breakthrough in the battery sector. Traditional lithium ion batteries seem to have been pushed to the limit by battery manufacturers to date although developments in the aluminium–air battery arena could give electric vehicles a journey span of 1000 miles. So what next?"
It will be interesting to see results from the U.S. government’s investment programme, as there is still some suspicion that the authorities are perhaps not as supportive of the EV industry as they could be. Even though a $36 million investment across more than 20 companies connected with battery technology is certainly a step forward, it is not exactly mind blowing money when you bear in mind the billions of dollars the U.S. government spends protecting its supply of oil.
Finding a balance
It is becoming more evident that battery technology companies need to find a balance between efficiency, cost and the potential environmental impact. There has been talk of a near 500 mile journey capacity battery system being tested by IBM but sceptics will say this has been "rumoured" for many years and has yet to emerge into the commercial world.
Whether or not the relative silence from the battery technology sector today it is due to a lack of progress, or perhaps the need for commercial confidentiality, is open to debate. Every now and again we hear rumours of new technology emerging in the sector as well we as extended journey capacity in relation to electric vehicles and many are comparing the downward pressure on the cost per kilowatt hour to the development of the microchip.
Feeding the EV frenzy
It does not take much investigating to find a flurry of interest targeted at the electric vehicle industry with governments, private companies and individuals now more aware of this particular mode of transport than ever before. The industry needs to remain one step ahead of potential customers offering them new technology today and the promise of more improved technology tomorrow. There are some who suggest that 300 mile journey capacity per full battery charge would be enough to tip the balance in favour of the industry, while others are perhaps more focused upon the growing number of electric vehicle fast charging stations emerging.
Speculation and potential improvements in technology are all par for the course but at some point in the short to medium term we will need to see improved battery offerings in the commercial sector.