In the first part of this two-part blog series designed to put the electric car boom into perspective, we identified several of the unintended negative consequences of mining certain raw materials – cobalt and lithium being just two of them – that make today’s battery technology possible.
This second part is considerably more optimistic, albeit guardedly. Consider the following extract from The Wall Street Journal:
“Type the words ‘battery’ and ‘breakthrough’ into your search engine of choice, and you’ll encounter page after page of links. They include breathless news articles and lofty pronouncements from battery start-ups. And yet, according to scientists, engineers, start-up founders and analysts, the use of the word ‘breakthrough’ in the context of battery technology is misleading at best. Claims that the latest research finding or start-up launch will bear fruit in the near future are almost always nonsense, they say.”
Our view is that the pure weight of innovation being put behind the challenge is likely to
deliver the results most of us are looking for considerably sooner than The Wall Street Journal predicts. Here’s why.
Combining Batteries With Supercapacitors Will Transform Electric Car Performance
Like many of you, we’re fascinated by the phenomenon of the electric-powered vehicle. We’re all seeing more and more electric cars on the road – some fully electric, others hybrid – and many of us are aware that Volvo plans to produce only electric cars by 2030.
The big issues with electric cars continue to be:
- Range anxiety – they don’t go far enough.
- Recharge rates – they take too long to recharge.
- Cost – high, though it’s coming down.
Stand By For Take-Off
So, while there continues to be consumer resistance to the electric car – not to mention the technological roadblocks suggested earlier – something is happening out there in the world of technology that might well interest you as much as it fascinates us.
It involves the hybridization of the battery with the supercapacitor. When that happens successfully (and it seems likely that it will), stand by for take-off.
When the Marathon & the Sprint Meet
Consider the following observation carried in The Economist: “When it comes to putting on pace, some electric vehicles rely not only on a battery to deliver the necessary wattage, but also on a second source of power called a supercapacitor. The battery serves as the marathon runner, providing a steady discharge over a long distance. The supercapacitor is a sprinter, unleashing a large amount of energy rapidly.”
Enabling the battery and supercapacitor to work together successfully could be the technological equivalent of creating a super-athlete – where endurance meets speed.
1,000 Kilometres on a 5-Minute Charge
According to The Economist there’s a company called NAWA Technologies – operating near Aix-en-Provence in France – who claim that their “supercapacitor-like battery could more than double the range of an electric car, allowing it to be driven for 1,000 km on a single charge. This new device could also, NAWA says, be recharged to 80% of its capacity in as little as five minutes.”
To begin with, batteries and capacitors work in different ways, and the technology necessary to combine them is exceptionally tricky, not to mention virtually unintelligible to the layperson.
So, unless language such as “additives, binders and powders” and “billions of functionalized, vertically aligned nanotubes” enthrals you, we’ll just stick to the real meat of the breakthrough.
The Fastest Electrode in the World
In a report about it a high-tech publication called AZO Materials wrote, under the headline, The Fastest Electrode in the World, we discovered: “The French company claims its electrode technology has the world’s highest electrical and ionic conduction in charge and discharge, making it the fastest electrode globally. NAWA has said it is already producing electrodes with carbon nanotubes for batteries that could provide up to three times the energy density and ten times the power. This translates to much faster charging times and up to five times longer battery life spans.”
Many other groups are working on ways to add chemical-energy storage to a supercapacitor, so NAWA is hardly alone. The industry expectation is that the first versions of the super capacity battery hybrids will be in production by 2023.
An Era of Carefree Electric Motoring
As we mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, potential electric car purchasers continue to be troubled by doubts regarding their range, concerns about recharge speeds and anxieties about cost.
But as The Economist concludes: “Mixing the spice of a supercapacitor with the stamina of a battery might overcome at least the first two of these objections, and thus, at last, truly launch an era of carefree electric motoring.”