Powering the future of Electric Vehicles
Innovative battery trends propelling the future of the EV industry
The mobility solutions arena has seen investment flows especially within deep tech start-ups. Some drivers for the inflow of capital have been a growing focus on climate change and pertaining regulation hiking up the demand for electric vehicles (EVs) as the governments subsidize the ownership of these vehicles as part of the overarching decarbonization efforts. This article, therefore, lays out three emerging technology fields that could impact the battery development for EVs depending on how and at what speed do these technical innovations develop and commercialize. However, with COVID-19 exacerbating the challenges that came with the shortages of semiconductors, the automotive industry as being heavily reliant on mature and legacy semiconductors was hit hard. It has consequently become imperative for the industry not only find, develop and invest in new solutions but also to ensure that the peripheral industries essential for the manufacturing of vehciles becomes part of a well-connected and geographically proximal value chain. Moreover, with the current rate of inflation hitting the automotive sector: the costs of raw materials are projected to triple this year. Add to this, the increasing demand for lithium and the subsequent high prices, electric vehicles manufacturers are faced with a myriad of trials.
So, what are some promising trends that can be identified in the sector?
Sodium Batteries: the bountiful and abundant
The high cost of lithium resources stems from the scarcity of the element projected to be around 62 million tonnes. It is produced dominantly from Brine or from minerals where the two leading countries are Australia and Chile. With the commercialisation of Electric Vehicles, the demand for the lithium batteries is on the rise. However, the limited lithium resources on earth mean alternatives need to be developed. Sodium-ion batteries therefore present a viable solution due to three main reasons. First, the use of Manganese based oxide cathodes instead of Cobalt makes the batteries more feasible and less costly. Second, the use of copper current collector on the anode side in lithium-ion batteries makes it unstable at low charge. This in turn makes transportation of these batteries more difficult. Sodium-ion batteries, on the other hand, use aluminium current collectors making them safe even at zero charge and easier to transport. Third, the functioning temperature range for sodium ion batteries is bigger from -40 degrees to 60 degrees.
The technology itself is not yet as developed compared to lithium-ion batteries or even lead ones but given the technical potential it presents to deal with the increasing demand, the chances of it being commercialised are high.
Solid state Batteries: taking your bets
This technology still at its nascent stage presents a huge potential albeit it still uses lithium as a resource. Solid state batteries unlike their traditional counterpart do not use flammable liquid electrolyte for electrons to move through a circuit but rather a solid material. This enhances the safety of these without sacrificing power. Further research on solid state batteries though is required before they reach a stage of commercial use in electric vehicles. Moreover, the value propositions of offering higher energy density than traditional batteries, more range, faster recharging, and better safety still need to be effectively established. It is, however, a trend that most OEMs are actively perusing.
Recycling and Re-use of Batteries: the much fulfilled second lifetime
Since the use of batteries is prevalent across industries and warrants a range of different use cases such as for energy storage for solar farms, wind farms, powering fixed infrastructure such as streetlights, electrical grids and communications towers, the second life of these batteries is an industry that will grow to an estimated $24 billion by 2030. As EV batteries reach end-of-service, they can still store at least 70% of their original capacity which is a significant residual value. While it disregards them as a power source for Electric Vehicles, it still allows these batteries to be repurposed for the applications mentioned. In fact, regulation pertaining to second use and recycling of these EV batteries is sure to push the development of the reuse and recycle of these batteries. This would push the standardization of battery packs across manufacturers so the mechanical and chemical complexities do not vary to the degree as to void second life uses of the batteries.
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