Excerpt from the April 2022 issue of Car and driver.
Every battery manufacturer strives to improve energy density (the amount of electricity stored in their batteries). But until there’s a dramatic breakthrough, the vast majority of EVs hitting the market over the next five years, and possibly into 2030, will be powered by variations on both types. of lithium-ion cells already on sale.
The first type uses cobalt, nickel, manganese and aluminum in its cathode or positive electrode. The proportions of each element vary, with the aim of reducing the amount of expensive and highly demanded cobalt while continuing to increase energy density and power output. GM’s new Ultium NMCA cells, for example, use 70% less cobalt, increasing the proportion of nickel and aluminum.
The second type of cell for electric vehicles in the 2020s will use lithium iron phosphate (LiFP) cathodes. Long preferred by Chinese battery manufacturers, LiFP cells cost less, use abundant minerals and are less prone to fire in extreme conditions. Ten years of improving their energy density have made them practical for use in the lower end and less expensive electric vehicles. Tesla uses them in low-end versions of model 3and it’s worth noting that Teslas equipped with LiFP cells charge 100% every time, suggesting that Tesla has more confidence in the longevity and durability of the cells to survive full charges.
On the other hand, intensive research is carried out on the progress of anodes or negative electrodes. The hope is that a switch to carbon composites or even silicon will increase energy density up to 10 times that of today’s graphite anodes.
The breakthrough that most electric vehicle manufacturers are hoping for is the solid-state cell, named for its solid electrolyte, or the conductive material between cathode and anode that is typically liquid or polymer in today’s cells. today. Solid-state cells should be more energy dense, safer, and ultimately perhaps the preferred choice. But we won’t see them in production cars until at least 2025, and even then only in expensive, low-volume models.
Toyota is working hard to make solid-state cells practical for high-volume production. The automaker says its first vehicle with solid-state cells will be launched by the middle of the decade. Hybrid vehicles, with smaller batteries manufactured at higher volumes, will probably get them first.
Solid-state cells face great hurdles in reducing material costs, establishing production lines, and enhancing their advantages so that their price is competitive with older, better-known cells. that have benefited from years of refinement and economies of scale. A challenge for semiconductor cells: to extend their lifetime to several thousand complete discharge cycles, an obvious prerequisite for electric vehicles.
Meanwhile, each automaker has committed billions of dollars to create dedicated cell manufacturing sites, often near assembly plants for the cars they will power. In January, GM announced a third factory in joint venture with LG, a long-time cellular partnerwith the new site in Lansing, Michigan, joining production facilities in Lordstown, Ohio, and Spring Hill, Tennessee.
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