Car Battery Breakthrough Claimed in Japan

cutaway 2015 nissan leaf
Image: Nissan
Powertrain of a 2015 Nissan Leaf

Mitsubishi and GS Yuasa say they’ve developed a lithium-ion battery that will give electric cars twice the range that today's designs do, for the same cost.  The report, in yesterday's Nikkei Business Daily, adds that the battery will go into mass production in 2020.

Such a battery would at the very least assuage range anxiety among potential car buyers. It could even allow manufacturers to shrink the battery, and thus cut the car’s weight, energy usage, purchase price, and operating cost.

It’s the latest in a string of announcements that imply progress at least as fast as the e-car’s fondest proponents have claimed. Last week, a consortium of German companies revealed plans to build a lithium-ion battery gigafactory to rival Telsa's, with production slated to begin in 2019. And in June, Toyota—a company that had long talked up fuel cells as the natural successor to batteries—apparently changed direction by touting a new lithium-ion battery design using a solid electrolyte. Because this solid-state design would be less sensitive to heat, engineers should be able to pack cells more closely, cutting weight. The design might also allow for faster charging. Also in June, Volvo said its next-gen models would all employ electric drive, either alone or hybridized with a gasoline engine.
 
And in the most comprehensive report yet, Bloomberg New Energy Finance says that electric cars will reach cost-parity with their fossil-fuel kin by 2026. Here’s Bloomberg’s projection:

Electric cars approach price-parity with conventional ones

But as Matthew Eisler pointed out in this space last month, the projection is based on the cost per cell, leaving out the highly pertinent metric of battery pack lifetime. That may not be much of a problem for your cell phone’s battery, given the short lifetime of the phone. But nobody knows yet whether the new automotive lithium-ion batteries will need to be replaced before the car wears out.

Then again, it may not matter all that much. Range anxiety may turn out to be more a theoretical than a practical problem, particularly now that electric cars are packing serious kilowatt-hourage.

A couple of years ago, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that even when a car’s batteries have lost 30 percent of their storage capacity, most people could make the trips they normally make. And that study was based on the 2015 Nissan Leaf, which then had a range of just 135 kilometers (83 miles). The new Chevrolet Bolt can go nearly three times as far on a single charge. 

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