Britishvolt's LeCain sees EV batteries improving in the same way that the internal combustion engine improved over more than a century: incrementally. He said he believes there are plenty of gains to be made in making lithium ion batteries better. The company is working on technology that reduces the weight and size of the pack.
"Right now we're trying to take parts out, going from cell to chassis, using hard-cased prismatic cells that bear some of the weight and structure of the vehicle," LeCain said.
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, its leadership team includes two auto industry veterans, both of whom have extensive powertrain backgrounds:
- Joe Bakaj, former Ford of Europe vice president of product development. He is Britishvolt's vice chairman.
- Graham Hoare, former chairman of Ford of Britain. He is the battery-maker's president of global operations.
Although global automakers and battery companies are investing billions over the next nine years toward cell development, it's not clear whether a battery will ever hold as much energy as a gallon of gasoline or be as convenient to use.
A Chevrolet Silverado pickup, for example, has a 24-gallon fuel tank that can be refilled at most stations in about three minutes. Driven on the highway, the truck will get 21 mpg and travel around 504 miles before it needs more fuel. A full fuel tank in the Silverado weighs 146.4 pounds.
To get a driving range of 300 or more miles, the battery pack in electric vehicles has to be very large. A Tesla Model 3 with the long-range battery pack contains 4,410 cells and weighs more than 1,200 pounds; the EPA-estimated range is 358 miles. Even a compact Chevrolet Bolt's battery pack, with its range of 259 miles, weighs around 960 pounds.
And then there's the matter of charging times. For the roughly 80 percent of EV drivers who charge at home and don't exceed their vehicle's range, those long waits aren't usually a problem. But for those who need to use public chargers, wait times can be long, anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, once plugged in, to get reasonable range.
"Were combustion cars viable in 1950? Absolutely. People got to and from work every day. Are they better today than they were in 1950? Absolutely," said Renna. "You've had billions of R&D dollars and engineers working on making them better every day. Using that analogy, I think electric cars are viable today, and solid-state batteries have the potential to make them more viable in the future."