How fast will battery technology evolve?

A woman plugging an electric charger into a black car.

In November 2020 we conducted a survey to find out what owners of petrol and diesel cars think about electric vehicles (EVs) and if they’re considering a switch to electric. Of 500 respondents, we found that 23% are planning to make their next car electric, while 32% ‘might’ make the switch next time.

Presumably, everyone wants to make a positive impact on the environment, but some future EV drivers are holding out for a superlative performer that’s faster charging, cheaper, lighter, and able to drive much farther than you should without stopping. Even the idea of that one long road trip a year was enough to put, some people off choosing an electric car.

If you’re like most people, driving for two to three hours a day just isn’t on the cards. In the UK, the average trip is short, so people want to charge and go. And in the past decade we’ve seen the range of the first mass-market EV double. Many electric cars can now do more than 200 miles on a single 10-minute charge with a high-power charger. Will battery technology keep evolving at the same rate it has since the first EV hit the roads? More importantly, do we need it to?

In 2021, lithium-ion is the most common type of battery used in electric vehicles. Nickel-metal hydride and lead-acid types are also used in the manufacture of batteries but without delving too deep into the particularities of today’s battery materials, let’s talk about future developments.

Many manufacturers are working on solid state technology and some say it’s the next breakthrough. They’re energy dense, less expensive and incredibly fast to charge. But we’ve seen the same excitement over a host of other potential battery developments yet to materialise. We’ve heard the promises of hydrogen fuel-cell cars fuelling environmentally conscious journeys around the world. But finding fuel is another story. With all the infrastructure developed to accommodate electric cars, if hydrogen really is the future, it could be some time before the practicalities of filling up your tank meet the mainstream.

There have also been hopes for graphene batteries that can get your car fully charged in minutes for a range of 500 miles. The lifespan of graphene batteries is expected to be longer too. Unless you’ll drive your car more than 250,000 miles, battery life shouldn’t be an issue. The main disadvantage of using graphene is the cost, so again, only time will tell whether graphene is a winner to be rolled out en masse.

If you’re still determined to know (or show!) you can go the distance, there are EVs which can go more than 400 miles without recharging. It’s about energy density or the amount of energy an EV battery can store. It has a direct impact on how far the car can travel without having to recharge. In a nutshell, two batteries can be the same weight but one can take you farther.

Predictions from analysts range from a 25% rise in density in the next decade to 40%. The bottom line is – if your driving habits aren’t out of the ordinary, you won’t benefit from waiting for an EV that can go thousands of miles without recharging.

The EV market is dynamic and predictions often don’t materialise. Today’s electric cars make sense for most people, especially if you have financing in place to cover the higher upfront cost. Ask any EV owner how they feel about their choice and your electric dreams could soon become reality.

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