New-Generation Electric-Car Batteries Will Take 10 Years, DoE Lab Says

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Lithium-ion battery pack of 2011 Nissan Leaf, showing cells assembled into modules

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:

Ten years.


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Comments (18)
  1. You forgot to mention using Graphene to enhance batteries, probably also 10 years out...

  2. Actually the 10 years joke (or 5 years in some versions) is used a lot regarding hydrogen fuel cells, because the technology faces such enormous challenges that the very laws of physics suggest that it's unlikely ever to end up as an affordable mass market proposition. There are no laws of physics I'm aware of that suggest that battery improvements are extremely hard to achieve and I have in fact never seen the mirage joke used to ridicule battery progress before.

  3. battery improvements will arrive, as needed.

  4. IBM recently made the rather puzzling announced that their lithium air research is successful but that it will still take a few more decades for a product to hit the market which does seem to fit nicely with the assertion of the oil industry that oil will remain dominant for decades to come. So yes, it's not inconceivable that along with a technology component there is also an agenda component involved in battery tech development.

  5. The history of estimates of future technology are mostly BS.
    I remember when the Feds claimed that the maximum number of computers the world could justify was about 7!!!! IBM's computer experts estimated that non-mainframe computers would never account for more than a tiny part of the technology. I could go on and on relating estimates of future technology that made those "experts" look totally foolish. Even the idea that one can estimate future technology is goofy. If one could make estimates that good, they would have to know exactly that that future technology looked like. Which is obviously total nonsense. Nor is there any need for any leap in technology - we simply need cheaper batteries. Period. That would solve everything.

  6. I have a Chevy volt and drove it 1600 miles and have used 4 gallons of gas.

    We don't need much better battery technology...we have it today...and nobody realizes it.

  7. These guys on crack? I drive a tesla. Batteries are fine and provide more energy than I need to go about daily.

  8. You obviously work for GM, and like Stefan said below in part, "you're on crack." When I hear jokes abut batteries for electric cars, I can't keep from thinking about Faux News. There are numerous super charge batteries our there just waiting to be mass produced, but they will not be until GM comes out with an electric car.

  9. this is basically the message that i have been trying to get across. if the bigwigs want to sell us evs, the means to do so will arrive.

    if they want to sell evs by the truckload, the price needs to come down.

    and you can bet your boots that the price of the lithium batteries will come down drastically, or a better battery technology will arrive "just in the nick of time".

    gm and toyota do not want evs to break loose, currently. nissan does - the only big company that has demonstrated that desire, so far.

    much of big money is still entrenched in oil, cuz oil is a product that is 100% controlled by THEM. we are absolutely helpless, when controlled by oil.

  10. I don't see the problem of needing better batteries before electric cars are usable. I have no problem with the current lithium tech. Whatever comes next will make things better for sure, but there's no great technological hold up judging by Tesla's incredible vehicles.

  11. I totaly agree. We just drove our Nissan Leaf 230 miles yesterday using fast chargers part of the West Coast Electric Highway project here in the pacific northwest. I have seen the future, and it is here right now. It would be easily possible to drive coast to coast in all current technology.

  12. That's why Better Place will take over the world..

    Unlimited range now. (Where BSS's are build)

    No need to wait 10 years to buy a 300 mile EV that costs
    as much as a cheap Toyota Corolla sedan!

    Because you buy the EV without the battery
    the EV's price is slashed by more than $12,000!!

    In Israel:

    The Chevrolet Volt costs 200,000 shekels ($52,890)

    The Prius Plug-in costs 173,000 shekels ($45,750)
    (and the Nissan LEAF is estimated to cost a little more)


    The Better Place Renault Fluence ZE costs:122,900 shekels ($32,500)

    Plus because you don't own the battery you don't worry that
    the resale value of your car will fall dramatically
    when new EV's appear with cheaper batteries and longer range.


  13. Or because you don't own the battery
    you don't worry about the range of your EV
    getting shorter and shorter
    because of battery degradation.

    You just go to a
    battery switch station and swap it!


  14. Buying a car without its battery to make the base price appear smaller is a scam. It may lower the cost to buy but it heightens the cost of ownership. And no you won't loose resale value due to battery price changes, if the price of batteries go down then the cost to replace them does the same. Plus with battery prices continuing to fall degradation won't be as big of a problem. Better Place is a pill taken for temporary relief of range anxiety. We will have to wait and see what the final solution will be.

  15. I don't agree. New technologies can burst upon the scene and be exploited in just a few years. Just look at the progress in smart phone technologies such as 3D, HD video, and video projection capabilities. It seems to happen on a monthly basis.

  16. All the examples you posted took many years to develop. You didn't know it because there wasn't the kind of advance media coverage we get with auto battery technology.

  17. Thought experiment. The ICE has been around about 120 years, as has been the electric motor. To make the ICE more effective and more efficient over those 120 years x billions of dollars have been spent on R&D. Better metals, better distributors, better gasoline, better carburetors/injectors. But also better oil extraction processes and oil refining processes.

    And over the last 120 years, x billions have been spent on R&D for the electric motor. And this two should include the R&D on making batteries and the extraction processes of getting the material in battery manufacture.

    Now the thought experiment is this: Imagine if x and y were reversed. Never mind MPGe but also consider asthma rates and oil wars. It's easy if you try.

  18. There is another major reason why we went the ICE route and not the electric route. The use of oil resulted in the centralization of profit. Wealth could be concentrated in the hands of just a few. Battery tech dangerously allows for the dissemination of profit. It by nature spreads the wealth.

    This is by far the major reason why solar panel research and wind generator research does not get the political support that nuclear or fossil fuel industry will always get.

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