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Don’t expect a ‘moonshot’ on EV battery technology

Britishvolt’s LeCain sees EV batteries improving in the same way that the internal combustion engine has improved over more than a century: incrementally. He believes there are many benefits to making lithium-ion batteries better. The company is working on a technology that will reduce the weight and size of the pack.

“Right now we’re trying to take parts out from the cell to the chassis using hard-jacketed prismatic cells that support some of the weight and structure of the vehicle,” said LeCain.

Britishvolt’s first cells for the auto industry will be lithium-ion, but the company is also investing in solid-state batteries. And unlike many other battery companies, the executive team includes two automotive industry veterans, both with extensive powertrain experience:

  • Joe Bakaj, former vice president of product development for Ford of Europe. He is the vice-chairman of Britishvolt.
  • Graham Hoare, former chairman of Ford of Britain. He is the battery manufacturer’s President of Global Operations.

While global automakers and battery companies are investing billions in cell development over the next nine years, it’s not clear whether a battery will ever hold as much energy as a gallon of gasoline or be as convenient to use.

For example, a Chevrolet Silverado pickup has a 24-gallon fuel tank that can be refilled in about three minutes at most stations. Driven on the highway, the truck will get 21 mpg and travel about 504 miles before using more fuel. A full fuel tank in the Silverado weighs 146.4 pounds.

In order to achieve a range of 300 kilometers or more, the battery pack in electric vehicles must be very large. A Tesla Model 3 with the long-range battery contains 4,410 cells and weighs more than 1,200 pounds; the EPA estimated range is 358 miles. Even a compact Chevrolet Bolt battery weighs around 960 pounds with a range of 259 miles.

And then there is the question of loading times. For around 80 percent of EV drivers who charge at home and do not exceed the range of their vehicle, these long waiting times are generally not a problem. But for those who need to use public chargers, the wait times can be long, anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour once plugged in for reasonable range.

“Were ICE cars still viable in 1950? Absolutely. People came to and from work every day. Are they better today than 1950? Absolutely,” Renna said. “They had billions of R&D dollars and engineers working every day to make them better. Using that analogy, I think electric cars are viable today and solid-state batteries have the potential to make them even more profitable in the future.”