Batteries. Like hydrogen, the next 'big breakthrough' in battery tech has been 'just five years away' for about twenty years. GM claimed it killed the EV1 because no one wanted it - and it blamed (among other things) the range of the batteries. While Chris Paine's "Who killed the electric car" begged to differ, even today's best lithium-ion batteries - the type used in the Tesla Roadster - suffer from a modest range (especially when they're thrashed in the hands of Jeremy Clarkson, the UK's favourite automotive journalist).
Renault, Nissan and Ford have all promised to bring a full electric car to market in the next three years, and are talking about a range of around 100 miles per charge. That's enough for the daily commute, but not for a road trip, and as the US driving season is only round the corner, it once again gets you thinking - how do you solve the range problem for Evs? Range isn't the only problem - lithium-ions are expensive, they don't like getting very hot or cold, their capacity degrades over time, and when charged via a normal house plug, they're slow to recharge.
Yesterday we saw news of two new battery technology developments which get us thinking there'll be a 'no excuses' electric vehicle battery in the not too distant future. First up was the 'lithium-Air' battery - reportedly capable of delivery a ten-fold increase in battery energy capacity over today's lithium cells. And in another (hopefully not mutually exclusive) corner, was news about a development with lithium-sulphur cells, which, like the lithium-air battery, would improve the energy density of the battery, theoretically providing EVs with a 500% increase in range.
The car industry's short term priority is to make cheaper battery cells for use in cars and get more of those cars on the road. We suspect the best way to do that isn't by developing a battery that will allow your car to do 750 miles on one charge. No, that could prove to be a folly - especially if in the near future, Shai Agassi's BetterPlace (and others) have fuel-station like battery swap centres alongside every highway and at each intersection. But it's good to know someone reckons they can do it.
[Source: Green Car Congress; AutoBlog Green]
Image: 1914 Detroit Electric battery - from Flickr user BrewBrooks under creative commons