How different will cars and the driving experience be in, say, 2020 from what they are today? Take electric vehicles, for example. It’s likely that they will be much more common in another eight years or so, especially if battery makers are successful at eliminating two current barriers to widespread consumer adoption of electric vehicles – cost, and specific energy.
Battery makers have a handle on safety, lifespan and specific power – the ability to take a vehicle to maximum speed – according to Russell Lefevre, an IEEE Fellow and co-chair of the IEEE Transportation Electrification Steering Committee.
Lefevre says performance, which includes a battery’s ability to work well despite high or low temperatures, is an issue that battery manufacturers worry about but are working on. The more significant issues, he says, are cost – currently around $500 to $600 per-kilowatt hour – and specific energy, which relates to an electric vehicle’s range. “Everything else related to electric vehicle batteries has an engineering solution, but cost and specific energy need a breakthrough,” he says.
Fortunately, breakthroughs may be closer than we think. Lefevre, an adjunct professor of physics and electrical engineering at the University of North Dakota, cites a couple of possibilities. Envia Systems (enviasystems.com) describes a battery capable of reaching 400 watt hours/kg, priced nearer $150 per kilowatt hour. General Motors CEO Dan Akerson reportedly believes Envia’s battery will be able to take a car 100 miles within a couple of years, and GM has better than a 50-50 chance to develop a car that will go 200 miles on a charge.
Then there’s A123 co-founder Yet-Ming Chiang, who has a new company, 24M Technologies, he thinks can achieve greater density than Lithium Ion at a significantly lower cost, and IBM, which has put a lot of effort and investment into lithium air batteries. Can we anticipate electric vehicles able to go toe-to-toe, or wheel-to-wheel, with internal combustion engine vehicles in as little as eight years?