|Costly battery research in search of holy grail|
Automakers and battery suppliers are in search of a vehicular holy grail — a battery chemistry for electric vehicles that sharply reduces charging times and greatly increases range while remaining cheap and easy to mass produce.
Unprecedented sums of money are being poured into battery research to find such a solution, and battery performance has improved over time as companies tinker with chemistries and packaging. But so far, that breakthrough, one that could push EVs into the mainstream once and for all, is proving elusive.
"We have hit a chemical plateau in terms of lithium battery cathode composition," said Conrad Layson, senior alternative propulsion analyst at AutoForecast Solutions LLC.
As automakers spend billions rolling out EVs and governments boost public adoption of zero-emission vehicles, finding ways to increase battery performance is becoming increasingly important.
Batteries can account for as much as 30 percent of an EV's cost, while EVs overall remain significantly more expensive than gasoline-powered vehicles. The average transaction price for EVs in the U.S. stood at $65,291 in September, compared with $48,094 for gas-powered vehicles, according to Cox Automotive data.
Batteries are complex, making it difficult to find newer, cheaper solutions quickly, said Alexei Andreev, a co-founder at venture capital firm AutoTech Ventures in Palo Alto, Calif.
"If you have a high school chemistry book, batteries might look like they have just one function," he said. "The ion goes this way, the electron goes that way, and there you have a battery. But it's much more complicated than that."
— John Irwin