The Importance of Increasing Battery Lifespan In E-Mobility
As a global climate crisis looms, efforts to improve the eco-friendliness and sustainability of all human activities intensify. The growing demand for electric vehicles (EVs) reflects a widening public awareness that reducing fossil fuel use is a shared responsibility at the moment.
However, there are still significant limitations which mean that currently from a practical perspective, owning and operating a traditional combustion engine-powered car, van or truck makes much more sense.
For those who want to enter the age of e-mobility sooner rather than later, there is more choice than ever, as well as the promise of ongoing improvements to the underlying technologies that will make electric vehicles a viable alternative with fewer compromises involved.
Battery lifespan is the biggest issue surrounding e-mobility today, so why are the capacity and longevity of these components important and what changes are being implemented to allow for better performance?
There are many complications which battery manufacturers need to overcome when creating solutions for the e-mobility industry.
Firstly, there is the cost of manufacturing the lithium-ion cells needed to store electricity and power the vehicles. The good news is that fiber lasers are allowing for the precision and efficiency of battery production to be enhanced, making this more affordable for manufacturers and thus for customers further down the line.
It is worth mentioning that experts warn of material shortages which may also become problematic within the next half-decade. In the interim new types of batteries are likely to emerge which could alleviate supply-based strains on this sector.
Next, there is the per-charge range which the batteries can supply to a given vehicle. As with traditional combustion engine vehicles, electric vehicles have both a manufacturer-claimed range as well as ranges which have been independently established in real-world driving conditions. These range from around 60 miles from a single charge right up to around 240 miles.
Bear in mind this range rating reflects fully electric models, not hybrids; by combining these two power options it is possible to secure significantly greater ranges. Even so, the king of range remains the diesel engine, with some models able to squeeze over 1000 miles from a single tank. This means that there is still a significant gap between electric vehicles and incumbent gas-guzzling equivalents.
There is no doubting that electric vehicles have seen significant sales growth, although there are fears that this could plateau and even fall off unless improvements to battery lifespan are delivered. Indeed a 14 per cent drop in global plug-in electric vehicle sales seen in August of 2019 is being linked in part to a change in the way public subsidies are being reduced, as well as to the fact that mainstream buyers are more interested in practicality than sustainability.
In short, demand will only continue to grow if there is a combination of government support as well as the necessary range increases to ensure that new zero emissions vehicles do not fall short of their petrol and diesel-powered counterparts on range.
There are actually a couple of ways to address the range issue in particular; first by boosting battery capacities to improve lifespan without significantly increasing the cost to consumers, second by improving the charging infrastructure so that when batteries do run low, drivers can recharge their electric vehicle just as easily as someone refuelling a normal car.
The UK currently has around 25,000 electric charging points, with Scotland leading the way in terms of penetration rates, this equates to just 32 chargers for every 100,000 members of the public.
Rolling out charging points is a time consuming and costly process, so it would arguably be better to tackle the issue of battery lifespan first and foremost.
At the moment, the optimal 250 mile range of electric vehicles is relatively close to what can be achieved from the average petrol car, which has between 300 and 400 miles of range available from a full tank. If electric vehicles were to leap up to providing 500 miles of range per charge, they would not only eclipse standard vehicles in terms of practicality but would also be able to complete all but the longest road journeys in Britain without stopping.
There are several avenues of innovation that are being explored when it comes to the design and manufacture of batteries for e-mobility.
Fast-charging is one area that is receiving a particularly significant amount of attention because reducing the waiting times involved in recharging electric vehicles from hours to minutes would be a major leap forward. The chief complication with this is that faster charging generates more heart and can lead to battery components degrading more quickly, meaning that there is a trade-off to make.
The other aspect which is being addressed is of course battery capacity. Increasing the range of electric vehicles by adding more cells is all well and good in theory, but in practice, this inevitably means that vehicles weigh a lot more and are thus less efficient.
The aim is to increase energy density within batteries so that more power could be stored in a smaller area. Various breakthroughs have been claimed in this area, including one company that has apparently pushed ranges up to 700 miles thanks to the way that the lithium is configured within its cells, borrowing approaches normally seen in the production of semiconductors.
Fiber laser technology is already proving to be an effective tool in the production of higher capacity, longer lasting batteries for e-mobility, just as it has done historically for transmission components, electric motor manufacturing and more generally for vehicle assembly on production lines.
Higher capacity, longer lasting batteries are undoubtedly the breakthrough that the e-mobility industry needs to thrive in the future. Infact, the future of the planet itself could rest on this kind of development.
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