Lithium-ion battery pack of 2011 Nissan Leaf, showing cells assembled into modules
There's kind of a running joke within the electric car world that the next generation of batteries is just a decade away. And the next time you ask, it's still a decade away. Even a decade later.
Well, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the next generation of usable battery technology is--wait for it--around ten years away.
The reality behind the long-running joke is that we're now actually using some of that technology developed a decade ago in our modern electric cars, and while the battery world has its fair share of vaporware, the most promising technologies in development today really could be the ones we're using ten years down the line.
The other reality, according to Tony Hancock from the DoE's Kentucky-Argonne Battery Mfg. Research and Development Center, is that current lithium-ion chemistry still has room for improvement, and as much effort is being put into improving what we have as there is developing all-new technology.
Speaking with Wards Auto, Hancock says that even if a battery breakthrough happened today, we'd still not see the technology for several years--giving companies time to thoroughly test it.
“We’re trying to get the (development) time down by getting academicians and industry involved... But lithium-ion (batteries) will be the solution for the next decade, maybe two," said Hancock.
Much of the improvement to come from lithium-ion also involves reducing the cost of production, currently high thanks to the chemistry's volatility.
That volatility has been creating headlines for the wrong reasons recently, with stories of battery fires--and Hancock believes this is as a result of some companies skipping safety standards in order to reduce costs more quickly.
But what does lithium-ion still have to give? Not a lot, it seems, as it will still lack the sort of energy density found in gasoline, though EVs use that energy more efficiently in the first place.
Future technologies include more energy-dense lithium-sodium batteries--theoretically easier to produce, since sodium is more abundant than lithium--and the well-known lithium-air technology.
Li-air is one of the most promising futures for batteries, though Hancock is keen to stress: "It won't be quick."
So whatever technology we end up using--and for the time being li-ion will still be king--we know exactly how long it will take: