Despite the fact that electric cars are only now starting to come more commonplace on highways around the world, there is no doubt that the technology associated with an electric car battery is still in its infancy. There is no point producing the best electric cars in the world if electric car batteries have short maximum distances before they need recharging and electric car battery recharging stations are few and far between. So what can we expect from future electric car batteries?
Electric car industry
Over the last decade there has been a massive increase in the number of car manufacturers looking towards the electric car industry, which has led to the creation of a new and exciting business arena surrounding electric car batteries. However, it is taking some time to put together readily available recharging stations and therefore this is placing more pressure upon car manufacturers. So what is available today and what can you expect in the future?
Electric car batteries available today
While there are a number of different varieties of electric car batteries available in the marketplace today there is no doubt that experts believe that lithium ion cell batteries are the way forward. So why would lithium ion batteries be so prominent in the future?
When you consider that any excessive weight connected to an electric car will impact immediately upon the efficiency of the vehicle and its maximum journey distance, there is a need to ensure that each and every part is safe, reliable and as compact as possible. As a consequence, we are seeing the introduction of smaller batteries which very often carry more charge than their older more bulky counterparts.
Experts agreed that lithium-ion batteries are the way forward because they offer a massive premium on power compared to their older counterparts and with far less weight than your traditional electric car battery. Even some of the better-known hybrid batteries have been left in the wake of the lithium-ion variety which is set to dominate the multibillion dollar electric car market in the future.
The cost of a battery is a major element of the vehicle and especially in electric cars which can initially seem to be fairly expensive because of the cost of investing in new technology. As more and more companies become involved in the development of lithium-ion batteries, and more government grants appear, it is almost inevitable that costs will come down and electric cars will soon become more affordable than ever before.
Investments in technology
As we touched on above, while billions upon billions of pounds has been invested into the electric car market, there needs to be a similar amount of focus upon the electric car battery market. We have already seen multibillion dollar government grants dished out across America to assist with Pres. Obama’s target of 1 million electric cars on U.S. roads by 2012. It is this additional investment from governments around the world which will ultimately allow the process of developing the technology to be increased and rolled out much quicker.
Is there a decent return on investment?
One issue which is in the minds of many electric car battery manufacturers at the moment is the fact that we may not see a mass market in this particular area for a decade or more. In order for this market to take off we need to see a major increase in the number of electric cars on the roads today which could take a few years. As a consequence, return on investment in the short to medium term may well be limited for electric car battery manufacturers which could see competition only begin to develop at a later stage.
However, government intervention in this particular field would appear to have taken away some of the short-term issues surrounding electric car batteries although how long and how far governments would be willing to "carry" the electric car battery industry remains to be seen.
Nissan UK electric car battery plant
Nissan UK recently announced plans to construct a £200 million electric car battery plant in Sunderland which will create around 350 jobs and produce up to 60,000 batteries a year. It was also revealed that the £200 million cost will be partly covered by the UK government with a number of grants and loan guarantees already agreed. There is a hope that the UK will become one of the central planks of the electric car market in the future and a direct investment believed to be around £20 million will be forthcoming from UK taxpayers.
Despite the fact that traditional UK car manufacturers have fallen by the wayside, there's no doubt that a whole raft of overseas car companies are more and more attracted to the UK and the incentives on offer. If these incentives continue to flow there is no doubt that the UK government will benefit in the long term from the potentially enormous electric car battery market company with corporation tax, employee taxes and employment positions all likely to be positive in the longer-term.
Tesla electric car battery tie-up with Panasonic
Only a few weeks ago it was confirmed that Tesla, the award-winning electric car manufacturer, has agreed a joint venture with Panasonic to develop the next range of nickel-based lithium-ion batteries for its future range of electric vehicles. This is just the latest in a long line of deals announced with regards to lithium-ion batteries which are currently in great demand from electric car manufacturers. Very little in the way of detail has been released by the two companies but it is believed that future battery packs could be used on the forthcoming Tesla model S sedan.
Panasonic is just the latest in a long line of company signed up by Tesla as the company looks to maintain a stranglehold on the luxury end of the electric car market and push electric car battery power to the limit.
How do electric car batteries differ from traditional batteries?
While on the surface a battery is a battery, this is certainly not the case for both the current and the future batteries of the electric car market. The need to produce a battery which is as light as possible, yet powerful, cheap to manufacture, yet sturdy and long-lasting, is certainly a challenge for any technology company. So how do they differ from traditional car batteries?
Batteries in your traditional car are commonly referred to as starting, lighting and ignition (SLI) batteries which are designed to give a short-term power surge. When you compare this against the needs from a main electric car battery, which is to give power over a sustained period, the differences start to emerge. There is also need to maintain a relatively high power to weight ratio, energy to weight ratio and energy density. At this point in time the cost of the battery for an electric car is likely to be the most expensive component required.
While there's no doubt that the cost of electric car batteries will reduce in the future as demand increases and sales increase, the need to continually improve the technology is eating up billions upon billions of dollars a year at the moment. However, when you consider that the electric car battery market is expected to grow to around US$37 billion in 2020 perhaps it is easy to see the attractions!
The vast majority of electric vehicles available today will have some form of recharging system which will allow the driver to literally pull up to a recharging station and plug-in the recharging mechanism. The process of recharging the vehicle can take a significant amount of time but at the moment it is the lack of recharging facilities in many countries around the world which is causing problems. Not only does this limit the market for electric cars in the future but it also limits how you could use your vehicle throughout your home country. There is no point embarking on a 500 mile trip if there are no recharging points in between and your battery will not last the distance.
So over the next two years it is highly likely that we will see governments around the world investing money and time into electric car recharging points. If you think of a recharging station in a similar fashion to a fuel station, and imagine how many fuel stations are located in your region, then perhaps we can start to see how slow the development of recharging stations has been.
There is an ongoing debate as to whether electric car batteries are as environmentally friendly as many people would have you believe, although this will depend upon the type of battery used. Many of the older car batteries used in some of the earlier electric car vehicles are nowhere near as efficient as those available today. As a consequence, the environmental impact of old electric cars could well be higher than you might guess.
However, the development of lithium ion batteries is well underway and when you consider they are already commonplace in laptops and mobile phones around the world then perhaps there is already significant progress. Finding an efficient, cost-effective, reliable and lightweight power supply for electric car vehicles of the future will be vital to the success of individual vehicles and the sector as a whole.
Regenerative braking system
The regenerative braking system is not a new development in the automobile industry but it is one which is continually being improved. Many electric car manufacturers are now making use of regenerative braking systems to recharge car batteries on an ongoing basis and ensure that as much energy as possible is maintained and recycled within the vehicle. When you consider how many times you will brake within a journey of any length you may then begin to imagine how much energy is wasted by traditional vehicles.
Solar recharging systems
A number of vehicles are also equipped with solar recharging systems which will make use of direct sunlight to recharge onboard electric car batteries and thereby reduce the number of recharges required and extend journey times. When you consider the fairly lightweight body of an electric vehicle, any injection of additional battery power can make a marked difference on the overall maximum journey possible.
The future of electric car batteries
There is no doubt that the battery power for electric cars in the future will play a more prominent role in the overall efficiency and the overall power of these vehicles. Technological advances have been extensive over the last decade and lithium ion batteries now appear to be the way forward due to their relative high power density compared to traditional car batteries. Thankfully governments around the world now appear to be ready and willing to invest significant amounts of taxpayer’s money into the sector.
There's no doubt that the key to the overall success of the electric car market will be the power supply and how effective this is. If battery technology does not improve significantly in the short to medium term then we are unlikely to see a massive increase in the take up of electric vehicles which will impact upon investment returns and future developments. However, we have already seen significant improvement in this particular area over the last decade with lithium ion batteries, commonly used in laptops and mobile phones, set to take centre stage.
We also need to see significant investment in recharging stations around the world and the ability for businesses to profit from actually offering such services. How quickly and how efficiently this particular type of service develops will again be one of the keys to the success of the industry in the medium to longer term. However, cities such as London have already made plans to introduce their own range of recharging stations and with many electric vehicles also exempt from the congestion charge there are now more incentives than ever before.
After a relatively slow start and much controversy the electric car market is now set for liftoff. How quickly this will happen remains to be seen but electric car batteries will play a major role in the pace at which the sector develops.