The allegedly short ranges keep many people from buying an electric car. New battery technologies show that 1,000 kilometers is no longer wishful thinking.
Two things concern people when they switch from a combustion engine to an electric car: the price of the vehicle and the range. On average, Germans cover a distance of around 30 kilometers per day. According to this, every currently available electric car would have to be plugged in at most once a week. It is not even necessary to always charge the battery to 100 percent. 80 percent is enough, especially since many vehicles can charge from 30 to 80 percent in less than half an hour. This can easily be done during the weekly shop.
Nevertheless, many people are plagued by the fear of being stranded with their e-car or having to interrupt a longer journey for hours because the battery needs to be recharged. Automakers are cleverly using the fears as a selling point. They advertise their vehicles with a particularly large reach. The e-car pioneer Tesla, for example, never tires of pointing out that its long-range models are still superior to all other e-cars.
However, the competition between manufacturers in terms of range leads to a dilemma. Larger batteries can only be installed in larger cars, but customers are asking for smaller mid-range models around 30,000 euros. In addition, the batteries are still very expensive. The more watts you squeeze into a battery, the higher the price increases. In addition, customers are price-sensitive: They already decide against a model if it costs 1,000 euros more than the competition.
1,200 kilometers on one charge
Now what is the solution to this problem? The answer is in the battery packs of the vehicles themselves, more precisely: in the chemistry of the cells. This is where startups come into play. The automotive industry still lacks the expertise to build batteries. Many manufacturers have outsourced this work to specialized manufacturing companies, but their research is slow and has not produced the desired results. The car manufacturers, now under time pressure, are increasingly looking around the startup market and have found what they are looking for.
Example Our Next Energy: The US startup is currently one of the companies that are attracting a lot of attention. The battery manufacturer’s developers installed their batteries in a Tesla last year and achieved a range of a rather impressive 1,210 kilometers with the new energy storage system. According to the company, this was achieved by doubling the energy density in the batteries compared to the original battery.
The – of course secret – technology of the startup impressed BMW so much that the Bavarians bought into the startup in 2020. One Next Energy received $20 million, including from BMWi Ventures, the automaker’s equity arm. The first result of the investment is a battery for the in-house SUV electric vehicle BMW iX, whose range is to increase from the original 640 kilometers to 965 kilometers.
Better than Tesla?
There are also startups in Europe that want to extend the range of e-cars. Innolith from Switzerland, for example, is also dealing with the energy density of the cells. The company claims to have achieved up to 1,000 watt hours per kilo in the test. For comparison: the energy density of a Tesla battery is currently around 250 watt hours per kilo. Whether these energy densities can also be achieved in mass production? The Swiss company is currently holding back. After all, there are already batteries with 300 watt hours in the range. That would increase the range of a Tesla from 630 to around 750 kilometers.
The US startup SolidEnergy Systems, or SES for short, is taking a different technological approach. It relies on a solid-state battery, in which the energy is conducted through a solid conductive material instead of through a liquid. According to the company, the energy storage system developed by SES should deliver 500 watt hours per kilo, which would double the range of a Tesla. The company, valued at $3.6 billion last year after an IPO, has yet to prove the performance of its technology in regular operations.
Nevertheless, the examples show that the automotive industry alone will no longer ensure the next major technological leap. It is startups that develop new batteries, design the electric car and ensure that the notorious fear of range will soon be a thing of the past. Driving 1,000 kilometers in an electric car without stopping to charge – that will soon be reality.
Don Dahlmann has been a journalist for over 25 years and has been in the automotive industry for over ten years. Every Monday you can read his column “Torque” here, which takes a critical look at the mobility industry.
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