From Cadillac’s launch of the Celestiq to legislative pushes to get more electric vehicles on the road, the EV market has been a welcomed bright spot in what has been a challenging period for the automotive industry over the past 12 months.
But with more than 2.5 million EVs sold through 2020 — and that number is expected to rise by 70 percent this year alone, according to IHS Markit — one area is becoming the focal point within the EV market: batteries.
As legislation aimed at reducing emissions continues to roll out, and consumers look to save on fuel costs, battery life will be imperative in driving the mass adoption of EVs. As investment, adoption and infrastructure continue to grow, now is the time for automakers to double down on battery-related technology to keep the momentum going.
With that in mind, here is a look at current efforts in the battery space, what successes are taking place and where there is room for growth.
EV battery capacity has come a long way since the early days of the revolution, when ranges maxed out at about 100 miles. Yet, while automakers such as Tesla now offer extended-range models that can go up to approximately 400 miles on a single charge, and more affordable options such as the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt offer ranges up to about 250 miles, extending this will be pivotal. After all, while 250 miles per charge may cover daily driving needs, it’s not ideal for longer trips, especially if there are limited charging options or if the vehicle does not have fast-charging capabilities.
Furthermore, with so many automakers diving into the EV market, there is set to be a shortage in lithium battery technology unless alternatives are found. Luckily, investment in alternatives such as zinc ion and sodium ion batteries is underway, which should ease the burden on lithium ion technology.
These new types of batteries could be key in battery-life and -capacity innovation and cost management — which would expedite the battery innovation road map significantly.
Given that large battery-capacity advancements more likely to come in the medium to long term, to enhance product offerings in the EV space and compete, automakers are under pressure to eke out every mile possible. Efforts include embracing new materials and science to make vehicles lighter and more aerodynamic, along with initiatives and research geared toward the way vehicles use batteries.
For example, cooling and heating a vehicle requires a massive amount of energy. What if you could find ways to embrace newer technology to provide better vehicle insulation or heat rejection? These types of innovations can be beneficial for driving range by allowing more energy to be dedicated to propelling the vehicle.
Charging is arguably the space to watch for innovation. Over the past decade, the infrastructure for charging stations has grown tremendously. Moreover, the charging-station market is set to reach almost $265 billion by 2026 — up from just $27 billion in 2018. And as legislation — such as President Joe Biden’s infrastructure proposal — and mass investments by companies such as Shell and others ramp up, this rapid growth could be expedited even further.
Yet, for as impressive as the expansion has been, there is room for improvement in both charging performance and access. For example, Level 2 home chargers still take eight hours to fully charge a vehicle; DC fast chargers cut that down to about an hour. Also, there are only a limited number of fast charging stations now, and given the lack of uniformity in DC fast chargers offered by automakers, many EVs may not be compatible with the fast charging option available to them.
Look for standardization and better charging performance to be at the center of the EV discussion in the coming years as automakers and municipalities look to develop better options.
The growth in the EV market is exciting both from a technology and a sustainability perspective. But to keep the momentum going, industry insiders must continue to push the boundaries in terms of battery performance and wider battery-related infrastructure.