One of the many contentious issues in the electric-vehicle realm is how quickly -- and how much -- batteries can be improved.
The stakes couldn't be much higher. If there were a breakthrough in battery power, weight or cost, EVs might duplicate internal combustion engine vehicles in cost and utility.
That's a big if. Opinions range from blithe assurances that performance will improve sharply to flat statements that chemistry is destiny, meaning there's a hard limit to battery potential.
Bernd Bohr, chairman of Bosch Automotive Group, gave me a more measured analysis recently. Speaking at the Hannover, Germany, commercial vehicle show, Bohr said significant improvements in battery efficiency are plausible. But, Bohr added, they won't come soon.
Today's lithium ion batteries have an energy-to-weight ratio that is about one-thirtieth that of petroleum fuels. Foreseeable improvements could triple the efficiency of lithium ion, he said. That would cut the weight of batteries needed or generate more energy at the same weight.
Unfortunately, Bohr said, "that still leaves us with 1-to-10" ratio between the efficiency of lithium ion and petroleum fuels. Bohr said that new battery chemistries, such as lithium sulfur, might cut the ratio to 1-to-3.
"But they are in the basic research stage," he added, "so before serial production for consumer electronics, which we always see as the entry point for new battery technologies, it will be much more than five years, we think."
That puts automotive use even further out. Think 2020ish.
Bohr adds that the likelihood that new battery chemistries will appear first in consumer electronic products is fine with him: Bosch has a battery partnership with Samsung.