The allegedly short ranges prevent many people from buying an electric car. New battery technologies show that 1,000 kilometers is no longer wishful thinking.
Two things worry people when they switch from a combustion engine to an electric car: the price of the vehicle and the autonomy. On average, Germans cover a distance of about 30 kilometers per day. According to this, every currently available electric car should be plugged in at most once a week. You don’t even have to always charge the battery to 100%. 80% is enough, especially since many vehicles can charge from 30 to 80% in less than half an hour. This can easily be done during the weekly shop.
Nevertheless, many people are plagued by the fear of getting stuck with their electric car or having to interrupt a longer journey for hours because the battery needs to be recharged. Automakers are cleverly using fears as a selling point. They advertise their vehicles with a particularly wide reach. Electric car pioneer Tesla, for example, never tires of pointing out that its long-range models are consistently superior to all other electric cars.
However, competition between manufacturers in terms of range leads to a dilemma. Larger batteries can only be fitted in larger cars, but customers are asking for smaller mid-range models around 30,000 euros. In addition, the batteries are still very expensive. The more watts you squeeze into a battery, the higher the price. In addition, customers are price sensitive: they already decide against a model if it costs 1,000 euros more than the competition.
1,200 kilometers on a single charge
Now what is the solution to this problem? The answer lies in the vehicle batteries themselves, more precisely: in the chemistry of the cells. This is where startups come in. The automotive industry still lacks the expertise to manufacture batteries. Many manufacturers have outsourced this work to specialized manufacturing companies, but their research is slow and has not produced the expected results. Automakers, now pressed for time, are increasingly looking to the startup market and found what they were looking for.
Example Our Next Energy: The American startup is currently one of the companies that attracts the most attention. The battery maker’s developers installed their batteries in a Tesla last year and achieved a rather impressive range of 1,210 kilometers with the new energy storage system. According to the company, this was achieved by doubling the energy density in the batteries compared to the original battery.
The startup’s – of course, secret – technology impressed BMW so much that the Bavarians joined the startup in 2020. One Next Energy received $20 million, including from BMWi Ventures, the automaker’s subsidiary. The first result of the investment is a battery for the BMW iX in-house SUV electric vehicle, whose range is to be increased from the original 640 kilometers to 965 kilometers.
Better than Tesla?
There are also startups in Europe that want to expand the range of electric cars. Innolith from Switzerland, for example, also takes care of the energy density of the cells. The company claims to have achieved up to 1,000 watt hours per kilo in the test. For comparison: the energy density of a Tesla battery is currently around 250 watt-hours per kilo. Can these energy densities also be achieved in mass production? The Swiss company is currently holding back. After all, there are already 300 watt-hour batteries in the range. This would increase the range of a Tesla from 630 to around 750 kilometers.
US startup SolidEnergy Systems, or SES for short, is taking a different approach to technology. It relies on a solid-state battery, in which energy is conducted through a solid conductive material instead of a liquid. According to the company, the energy storage system developed by SES should deliver 500 watt hours per kilo, which would double the autonomy of a Tesla. The company, valued at $3.6 billion last year after an IPO, has yet to prove its technology’s performance in regular operations.
Nevertheless, the examples show that the automotive industry alone will no longer provide the next great technological leap. These are startups that develop new batteries, design the electric car and ensure that the notorious fear of range will soon be a thing of the past. Driving 1,000 kilometers in an electric car without stopping to recharge will soon be reality.
Don Dahlmann has been a journalist for over 25 years and has worked in the automotive industry for over ten years. Every Monday, you can read his “Torque” column here, which takes a critical look at the mobility industry.
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