Do you know much about batteries? I have to admit that until yesterday I didn’t know a great deal apart from the supposed benefits of lithium ion batteries over nickel metal hydride ones.
Lithium ion batteries are the ones you’ll find in your lap top or mobile phones and are generally regarded as superior to nickel hydride, being cheaper and more powerful for their size. But it’s the nickel ones you’ll still find in most hybrid cars, notably the new Toyota Prius.
Cars like the Tesla roadster though do have lithium ion technology although this is essentially powered by masses of lap top batteries lashed together: 6831 of them to be precise. No-one doubts though that lithium ion is the way to go and if, as everyone predicts, the electrification of the car does happen, batteries will be getting a lot more crucial in the coming years.
Charles Gassenheimer is under no illusion about this. He is the CEO of a company called Ener1 - an outfit that specialises in automotive lithium ion batteries, supplying companies like Volvo in the new electric C30. It’s big business, currently worth $7 billion (£4.4 billion) to the five big players in the market, mainly for those lap tops and mobile phones.
But such is the expected demand from car makers in the next decade that business will be increased tenfold to $70 billlion (£44 billion) by 2020. Gassenheimer reckons that the car business's involvement with lithium ion tech will also see massive improvements in battery technology too, and breakthroughs are already happening he reckons. Read Autocar's verdict of the Volvo C30 BEV
His company can already produce a single cell which is 30 times more powerful than a laptop cell, So if his batteries were in a Tesla it would only need 700 cells, rather than the 6831 it currently needs. That, mixed with vastly improved ways of making battery packs, would also mean it would be half the weight: around 400-500lbs, rather than the sports car’s current 1100lb battery pack.
Batteries will undoubtedly get smaller and cheaper and that will be the driving force to persuade more of us that electric cars and delivery vans are a viable economic proposition. Especially if it’s combined with a mass infrastructure of charging points which electricity companies and shops will be desperate to do to make more money, reckons Gassenheimer.
After all companies like EDF will want to sell more juice than they currently do and electric cars are also a good way of soaking up excess electricity that’s produced during the night with nowhere to go. While shops and coffee places will be keen to welcome us in for the half an hour or so while our cars are charging up outside.
So no doubt that the electric tech is going to get better and cheaper. And some sort of electrification is inevitable if car makers are going to meet emissions targets - hybrid tech is the only way to do it. The big question is whether we’ll go for full electric power. Can you imagine yourself saying: ‘ a large cappucino and 20 minutes charge please’?