As we head for the opening of the North American International Auto Show this weekend and battery technology jumps to the forefront of the automotive agenda, it might be a good idea to remind ourselves of the U.S. auto industry’s real battery goals.
So let’s lay them out right here. Per the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC), as told to Design News in mid-2008, here are a few short-term and long-term goals:
40-Mile Plug-In Hybrid Specific Energy: 97 W-hr/kg
40-Mile Plug-In Hybrid Cost: $293/kW-hr.
What’s that mean? It means that the U.S. auto industry is on the verge of meeting its own goals for plug-in hybrids. Lithium-ion batteries already exceed the required specific energy. Cost, however, is still an issue. A panel of experts contacted by Design News last year said that the actual costs for lithium-ion were still above $500/kW-hr. All, however, were optimistic about the ability to whittle costs down over time.
Making batteries for pure electrics, however, will still be tough. Last year, the USABC provided us with these rough goals.
Pure Electric Specific Energy (long term): 200 W-hr/kg.
Pure Electric Cost (long term): $100/kW-hr.
In truth, battery makers aren’t close to reaching those goals. The industry can start building pure electrics in the next few years, but the cost of batteries will still be too high. Automakers – some of whom are already on the verge of bankruptcy – will take a tremendous financial beating on those batteries if they jump now. Even at high production volumes, there’s still no $100/kW-hr battery on the horizon, according to our experts at MIT, Cal-Berkeley, Argonne National Labs, and elsewhere.
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk in the press about Intel wanting to jump into the EV battery fray. Before we all get breathless at the thought of Intel developing batteries, however, let’s remember how difficult it is to make advances in the historically mature arena of battery technology. Donald Sadoway, a battery expert and materials science professor at MIT, once put it best: “It’s the scientific equivalent of quicksand,” he said, “deceptively simple, yet enormously complex.”
In the next few days, some of the happy press coverage of NAIAS will leave the impression that long-range, low-cost pure electric vehicle batteries are ready today.
They’re not. Plug-in hybrid batteries are close, but much work remains on the batteries for pure EVs.
And unless someone makes a major scientific breakthrough before Sunday, it’s still going to be true at this year’s NAIAS.