While the subject of electric vehicles continues to grab the headlines around the world with the introduction of more and more popular electric cars, it seems that many people have forgotton about electric vehicle batteries and the fact that the technology to power these cars would appear on the surface to be way behind the actual car technology. Electric vehicle batteries are nowhere near the finished article but thankfully there has been significant progress over the last few years and there is hope that the catch-up between car technology and electric car battery technology is gathering pace.
Battery-powered technology is prevalent in many everyday items such as laptops, mobile phones and other well-known electronic equipment but the move towards electric vehicle batteries has certainly taken more time, more effort and more investment than many people expected. A number of battery companies around the world have mastered the technology to minimise batteries for laptops and mobiles while maximising their output and their efficiency. However, the situation regarding electric vehicles is very different because we have problems with the weight to efficiency ratio, weight to power ratio, and the fact that many electric cars of today will require a significant number of batteries to get them from A to B.
Cost efficiency of electric vehicle batteries
While there are many drawbacks regarding electric vehicle batteries at the moment, technology is improving and the gap between traditional car power and battery power is reducing and the fact is that on the cost to efficiency ratio there is no competition. It will literally cost you just a fraction of the cost of traditional fuel cars to drive your electric vehicle on the road. It is this fact which seems to be at the forefront of many battery manufacturer minds and with the price of oil creeping higher and higher at the moment due to friction around the world, this potential reduction in travel costs will continue to grow.
Different types of electric vehicle batteries
Despite the fact that electric vehicle battery technology has suffered slightly from underinvestment, with more and more funds targeted towards electric vehicles themselves, we have seen some progress over the last few years. There are a number of different types of electric vehicle batteries available which offer different advantages and disadvantages, although there is no doubt there is a strong movement towards one particular type of electric vehicle battery.
Lead acid battery
There is no doubt that lead acid powered batteries have been around for some time and while they are still very common in electric vehicles there are a number of issues which should lead to the reduction of lead acid batteries in future electric vehicles. Aside from the fact there are recycling and environmental issues with lead acid batteries, the number of batteries required to power a modern day electric vehicle can end up being as much as 25% to 50% of the overall vehicles mass. There is also the problem that only 80% of the power contained within a lead acid battery can be used before the battery is rendered "flat".
Nickel metal hydride battery
Like lead acid batteries, nickel metal hydride batteries are seen by many as mature technology which are not particularly in sync with the energy/weight ratio requirements of the modern day electric vehicle. While it will last longer than many of the modern day lightweight batteries, although this technology is being improved, there are downsides which include poor efficiency, poor performance in cold weather and potential issues with charging cycles. There is no doubt that nickel metal hydride batteries have played a major part in the development of electric vehicles in the UK and around the world but in the eyes of many they have "had their day".
Zebra batteries, otherwise known as sodium batteries, use molten chloroaluminate sodium as the electrolyte and again are seen by many as a mature technology although again this particular type of power has played its part in the development of electric vehicles. Cold weather is not necessarily an issue with this particular type of battery although some of the energy contained within the cell is "wasted" due to the requirement that the electrolyte is heated to 270°C. One of the main issues with any type of all the battery power is the weight and the number of batteries required to power the systems and the services available in the modern-day car. Batteries such as the zebra battery and sodium battery are likely to be phased out from the electric vehicle market in due course.
Lithium ion batteries
Lithium ion batteries are by far and away the most popular in the UK and worldwide today, as they are commonplace in consumer electronics such as laptops and mobile phones. The weight ratio and the number of batteries required compared to the overall weight of the electric vehicle today is very favourable and the fact they will discharge around 80% to 90% of their power before they need to be recharged is also useful. We have seen developments within the lithium ion battery sector and many believe this is where the future of electric vehicle power lies. However, at this point in time there are issues with regards to the short number of cycles which any lithium ion battery can accommodate before it needs to be replaced. This significant reduction in efficiency in a relatively small space of time has led to increased cost issues with regards to the long-term running of any electric vehicle.
Comparing battery power against battery costs
One of the main issues for the electric vehicle market, something which has been very prevalent since day one, is the fact that current battery technology is nowhere near at the same level as electric vehicle technology. As a consequence, older and more mature battery technology requires a significant number of batteries to power the modern-day car while new and up-and-coming battery technology seems to have a relatively short shelf life and therefore leads to increased replacement costs. Battery technology companies are now trying to find a balance between durability, cost and weight, something which is proving very difficult to crack without significant investment.
In the weeks, months and years ahead there is no doubt that billions upon billions of dollars will be poured into the electric vehicle market and indeed we should see a significant ramp up of investment in the battery market. There is no point in the major car companies investing billions of dollars into the electric vehicle market if the power technology is not there to accommodate future and current demand. So where do we go from here?
Since time began we have seen car companies looking to reduce the weight of their vehicles while increasing the safety and protection offered to drivers. When you take into account the fact that potentially dozens of batteries may be required for some older battery technology to power the latest electric vehicle, the need to strip the body of the modern-day vehicle down to the bare bones is paramount. In a perfect world, many car manufacturing companies would look to reduce the number of services and systems available in the modern day electric vehicle but consumer demand and consumer intolerance to changes compared to traditional petrol/diesel vehicles is starting to play a part.
There is a need to bring all of the elements together to create a powerful, durable, safe, light and protective electric vehicle for the future while also looking to keep purchase costs and running cost to a minimal. As we stand at the moment, the major expense for any electric vehicle owner will be the replacement of their batteries in the months and years ahead.
Even though we have seen a massive increase in the popularity of electric vehicles in the UK and around the world there is no doubt that there is still social ineptitude towards battery charging stations with the vast majority of people in the UK unable to name their nearest service station. However, the truth is that millions upon millions of pounds have been invested by the UK government, the EU and private ventures, to improve and increase the number of battery charging stations available for electric cars in the UK. Indeed many of the more well-known media companies have undertaken various tests of the UK electric vehicle battery charging network over the last couple of years with surprising success.
There is also the issue of payback for companies offering electric vehicle battery charging facilities because in theory it will be very cheap to recharge your battery and therefore there is limited scope for profit from the charging service alone. It is also unlikely that we will see UK petrol/diesel stations switching to electric vehicle charging services in the short to medium term because of the relatively low potential for return. So where does this leave the UK battery charging industry?
Possible outlets for electric vehicle charging
In the years ahead we are likely to see a switch from petrol/diesel stations to more retail outlets such as supermarkets and the like. Indeed supermarket giant Tesco recently announced plans for a test run of electric vehicle charging points at a number of the company's outlets in the south of England. The very fact that they can take anything from an hour to a number of hours to recharge the batteries of an electric vehicle means that there is potential for consumers to want to "spend their time shopping". As a consequence, many experts believe we will see the introduction of free electric vehicle charging points across the UK at some of the more popular retail outlets, government facilities and public service offices.
Investment so far
As we mentioned above, there has been significant investment in the electric vehicle market with the U.S., UK and other worldwide companies investing billions upon billions of dollars so far. While some of this investment has found its way towards the electric vehicle battery sector there is no doubt that investment in electric vehicles alone has dwarfed that in the battery sector. However, more and more experts are now pinpointing the battery sector as one of the more lucrative areas in the medium to longer term because there is no doubt that underlying demand for electric vehicles continues to grow.
When you also take into effect the environmental issues which have dogged petrol/diesel vehicles for many years, there is no doubt that this pressure together with pressure from governments and the EU in particular will lead to more electric vehicles on the road. As a consequence, we may see a short-term shift from overall electric vehicle investment into the battery power sector as a means of making full use of the latest technology in the industry.
When you consider that many of the more popular battery systems available today have literally been around for decades, if not longer, there is no doubt that investment in this particular area has been on the cards for some time. As we mentioned above, the billions upon billions of dollars which have been invested in the electric vehicle market are not delivering their overall potential simply because of the issue of weight, power and durability in the battery power sector. A number of companies have already stepped forward with plans for lithium ion battery technology improvements, which many believe will offer an immediate improvement in investment returns for the sector as a whole.
Governments also have a major part to play within the electric vehicle sector and despite the fact that billions upon billions of dollars of public money has already been poured into this industry, via various direct investments and tax breaks, more is still required. The UK authorities have long been proactive in this particular field and many overseas companies have been and continue to be in discussions with the UK authorities with regards to setting up of factories and research facilities in the UK.
While this article may seem fairly downbeat and depressing with regards to the slow movement and improvement in battery technology, there is no doubt that massive progress has been made and massive progress will be made in the medium to longer term. Once the battery power sector closes the relatively large gap between investment in the make-up and look of investment vehicles we should see speedy progress.