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German researchers make progress on a long-lasting battery for electric cars

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Battery technology is one of the major hurdles to the mass adoption of electric vehicles, and batteries that lose their capacity are also the scourge of our gadget-filled lives. One potential solution to this problem has recently been announced by a German research center, which claims to have produced a long-life and high-power battery.

The issue with batteries is that they lose capacity and reliability over time as they are charged and discharged. The very chemical reactions that make lithium-ion an effective technology also ultimately lead to its undoing, eventually causing capacity fade and lower rates that kill the battery. This problem is compounded at high temperatures, like those in electric vehicles.

Ford Focus ElectricBut the Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research (its German acronym is ZSW), a non-profit research consortium, says that its newly developed batteries last as long, or longer than, most people own a car, meaning that EV owners would never have to worry about replacing this costly auto component.

When the car and its other parts outlive the battery — which in modern EVs is usually rated to last about 10 years — it can be cost-prohibitive to opt for an electric vehicle. ZSW claims its battery could be charged every day for as long as 27 years, or 10,000 charge and discharge cycles, while still retaining more than 85 percent of its initial capacity. The battery charging time also takes just 30 minutes, a considerable improvement over some EV charging times now, which can range from six to eight hours with a basic charger.

A 10,000-cycle lifetime is a hit out of the current ballpark. Many companies make cells that can cycle 3,000 times, but the higher specific energy of the battery, the harder it is to achieve high cycle life. ZSW does not specify the energy density of their battery. What they do say is that it has 1,100 watts per kilogram; that’s power, or how fast you could accelerate a car with such a battery.

The Details Behind GE's WattStation Electric Car ChargerHowever, that figure doesn’t tell us how far you could drive the car (energy), and is probably not the four-fold improvement on current tech claimed by ZSW (it’s difficult to assess this without knowing the battery’s specific energy density, or watt-hours per kilogram). Because battery performance specifications are coupled, an equally high lifetime could be achieved by a lower energy battery cycling at low rates under ideal lab conditions.

ZSW’s announcement is vague on the details, but at least one report suggests that changes to the manufacturing process have improved the battery’s performance. Last year ZSW scientists published research detailing improvements achieved through manipulating electrode thickness and compacting, and the type and mixing of conductors. The battery space is also crowded with startups trying to come up with enhanced electrode chemistries (here are 13 companies in this field worth watching in 2013).

The prototype batteries from ZSW are of the cylindrical small form 18650 format, the kind used in older laptops and the Tesla Roadster, for example. These batteries typically have a capacity of 2.2-3.4 amp-hours. The capacity of the ZSW batteries isn’t clear, but it may be reasonable to assume it’s not groundbreaking, given that their announcement touts fast charge/discharge speeds (i.e. high power, which is often inversely correlated with specific energy).

Besides electric vehicles, these new batteries could be used for grid storage, and ZSW is planning next to develop larger pouch cells and prismatic, or flat, cells that pack well for applications in phones or cars. ZSW’s battery announcement also coincided with a new industry cooperation agreement signed on May 29 with partners including BMW, Daimler, and Rockwood Lithium.

10 Responses to “German researchers make progress on a long-lasting battery for electric cars”

  1. G Mackowiak

    Electric motors are much more efficient than gasoline fueled, internal combustion, piston engines with 5 quarts of oil sloshing about to lubricate all the moving parts.
    Electric motors over gasoline engines is not a close call.

  2. SV_ASC

    VIA – Science Daily
    More a question of the power source rather than the battery

    The study shows that the electric car’s Li-ion battery drive is in fact only a moderate environmental burden. At most only 15 per cent of the total burden can be ascribed to the battery (including its manufacture, maintenance and disposal). Half of this figure, that is about 7.5 per cent of the total environmental burden, occurs during the refining and manufacture of the battery’s raw materials, copper and aluminium. The production of the lithium, in the other hand, is responsible for only 2.3 per cent of the total. “Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries are not as bad as previously assumed,” according to Dominic Notter, coauthor of the study which has just been published in the scientific journal “Environmental Science & Technology.”

    The outlook is not as rosy when one looks at the operation of an electric vehicle over an expected lifetime of 150’000 kilometers. The greatest ecological impact is caused by the regular recharging of the battery, that is, the “fuel” of the e-car. “Refueling” with electricity sourced from a mixture of atomic, coal-fired and hydroelectric power stations, as is usual in Europe, results in three times as much pollution as from the Li-ion battery alone. It is therefore worth considering alternative power sources: If the electricity is generated exclusively by coal-fired power stations, the ecobalance worsens by another 13 per cent. If, on the other hand, the power is purely hydroelectric, then this figure improves by no less than 40 per cent.

    The conclusion drawn by the Empa team: a petrol-engined car must consume between three and four liters per 100 kilometers (or about 70 mpg) in order to be as environmentally friendly as the e-car studied, powered with Li-ion batteries and charged with a typical European electricity mix.

  3. SV_ASC

    Samfearnley, Thursday, June 20 2013 commented “That’s really interesting! I suppose the only issue now is how to get the electricity without burning fossil fuels in the first place. Once we do that, we will be totally sustainable :)”.
    I LIKE the way of involving questions in a comment, ” how to get the electricity without burning fossil fuels ?” is a smart one, it reminded me by my great ” Engineering Drawings” instructor, who used to use questioning approach, in that morning he showed us a photo of a dam under construction and asked “what is strange about this photo? “, the answer was also a question;” where is water?.
    Burning fossil fuels and storing energy using existing batteries are two faces of the same coin” Unsustainability”, “pollution” , “Energy Dependency”, large scale use of existing batteries technologies will clearly increase risk factors of the pollution issues of the batteries . in the last years since the invention of steam engine we have been smartly trapped by the attractive macro approach of generating power, trillions of $ have been invested in that direction , the Change to RE and Micro approach of generating power” even increasingly promising “, it will be with a high cost and needs a transition period.
    So for the medium run and only during the transition period, the battery developed by ZSW can be considered as a good news, but we have to be careful, “we don’t want to safe our self by jumping from the boiling pan “the fossil fuels” to the oven “Batteries ” .


    • @SV_ASC……..cmmon u gotta be kidding …no offence to u but really …u got to be be a bit reasonable sometimes ….mean like ther’s no efficient ways of storing energy than batteries …..and ya they are getting eco-friendly gradually;so it will take time to get both the things straight…so one thing at a time would be a good choice.

  4. That’s really interesting! I suppose the only issue now is how to get the electricity without burning fossil fuels in the first place. Once we do that, we will be totally sustainable :)

    • focher

      We already know how to generate electricity without burning fossil fuels, it’s just that we’ve focused primarily on fossil fuels for generating electricity. Regardless, generating electricity with a fossil fuel and using that generated electricity to charge and power our transport is significantly more energy efficient and generates less pollution that even the best internal combustion engines.

      • Jesus Mary and Joseph

        “Regardless, generating electricity with a fossil fuel and using that generated electricity to charge and power our transport is significantly more energy efficient and generates less pollution that even the best internal combustion engines.”

        And those who deny it are either in denial or are trying to promote tars sands oil, the oil industry and all the pipe lines, rail companies, refineries and infrastructure that is being constructed around it.
        We are close to delivering a killing blow to the oil industry with electric auto battery technology and I will celebrate that day.