Electric Vehicle Battery Innovation Predictions (2023)
By Dr. Michelle Tokarz, VP of Partnerships and Innovation at The Coretec Group
2022 has been an unprecedented year for all aspects of clean and sustainable energy with electric vehicles being at the forefront of much of the commentary. This is largely due to the emergence of legislation, such as the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which seeks to help create and standardize a national electric vehicles (EV) charging network. In addition, the, arguably one of the single largest investments in American climate history, prioritizes the reduction of GHG gasses through a multitude of provisions including ones that incentivize the EV industry through a series of tax credits. With so much legislative emphasis being placed on the electric vehicle industry, Dr. Michelle Tokarz – VP of Partnerships and Innovation at The Coretec Group, discusses her thoughts and predictions on the direction she believes the EV battery industry will take in 2023.
Challenges Currently Facing the EV Charging Industry
With legislation likely to cause an uptick in the production of EV vehicles, appropriate charging stations will be required to meet this increased demand. But simply multiplying current charging station technology is not the answer. Currently, most stations require a minimum of 30 minutes to provide a reasonable charge, compared to the 10-15 minutes required to fill the gas tank of a traditional internal combustion engine car. The logistics of having many more EV’s on the road and keeping their batteries charged could quickly become a nightmare. Widespread EV adoption could come with long, time consuming lines to access charging ports. Creating more charging stations and charging cars at home can help to decrease these wait times, but at-home charging comes with its own limitations. Relying on this method of charging results in higher household electric bills and limits the user to a range/radius of travel that is near one’s home, subsequently meaning longer trips would still require a network of charging stations. Additionally, the availability of at-home charging is not as much of a reality for those that live in more urban areas and might park in areas without the charging infrastructure like on the street or in carports.
Rise in the development and usage of silicon anodes in EV batteries
In order to alleviate these hurdles to widespread adoption, scientists and companies are conducting more research into chemistry-based technological advancements that will allow EV batteries to charge faster, adapt to longer ranges, and take on increased life cycles. Increasing the range of EV batteries remains as one of the easiest ways to reduce reliance on available charging stations. Faster charging times would also alleviate the charging bottlenecks. One method to achieve this is through the use of silicon-based anodes in lithium-ion batteries used to power EVs. The main components of lithium-ion batteries are current collectors, anodes, cathodes, separators, and electrolytes. Traditionally, anodes have been graphite (a particular form of carbon), but silicon is increasingly being viewed as the next logical evolutionary step in battery anode chemistry. This is due, in part, to the fact that silicon has ten times the charge capacity over traditional graphite anodes and can be found in abundance. It is literally the second most plentiful element on the earth.
It should be noted, however, that despite silicon’s vast increase in charge capacity over graphite, its implementation has been hindered by a lack of mechanical integrity, poor cycling stability, and poor conductivity. For these reasons, it is unlikely that silicon anodes will replace graphite anodes anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean we have to completely rule out silicon as a solution.
Researchers are actively investigating ways to troubleshoot silicon’s limitations and create a viable path forward in the near future. For example, unique structures and active anode formulations that will incorporate nano-sized length scales, appropriate use of carbon sources, and a solid electrolyte-interphase (SEI) layer that can better withstand the typical formation and degradation that occurs with current silicon anode particles can be used. Silicon is already being used as an additive in graphite anodes, but in very low percentages. To truly gain the charge capacity needed to translate into a better range, keep an eye out for developments in silicon.
LFP cathodes aren’t the future when it comes to EV batteries
2023 will likely see an increase in the use of LFP cathodes in EV charging, mostly because volumes of ALL cathodes are expected with the anticipated increase in EV’s. LFP cathodes offer a number of benefits, including lower cost, higher lifecycle, and better high temperature resistance. But Ternary cathode materials like Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC) and Lithium Nickel-Cobalt-Aluminum Oxide (NCA) are currently mainstays in batteries for a reason. Their LFP counterparts do not hold as much capacity as NCA/NMC batteries and have a lower energy density. The weight and volume necessary to gain the necessary charge capacity of an LFP makes it unsuitable for EV batteries, but rather more to grid storage applications where weight is not a concern. For lower-end EV’s where range (available charge capacity) is not as much of a concern, some EV’s based upon LFP cathodes still exist, but the innovation will likely come from NMC and NCA cathodes.
Overall, despite these clear limitations, inflation, fuel spikes, rising operational costs, and unstable geo-political conditions could lead to a multitude of EV battery developers opting to employ the cheaper LFP technology but not at a scale that will surpass NCA/NMC batteries.
Liquid electrolytes will continue to dominate the market throughout 2023
Despite liquid electrolytes disadvantages such as flammability and explosivity, 2023 will likely see the continuation of its dominance in the lithium-ion battery market due to its high levels of conductivity, self-discharge intensity, wider operating temperature range, and wettability on electrode surfaces. At this point, the only real known alternatives to liquid electrolyte are solid phase electrolytes found in solid state batteries. Solid state batteries have great potential in increases in charge capacity as well as safety. However, they are still very much in the research phase across the industry. Researchers estimate a period of 5-10 years for solid electrolytes to become mainstream.
As more and more players enter the EV industry in 2023 due to increased focus on climate change and curbing GHG emissions, innovations in the EV battery sector are likely to follow suit. As it stands, current charging times are a clear hindrance to mass EV adoption, and the industry needs to develop solutions to address these directly. Over the next few years, we can expect to see new technologies that strengthen our batteries, making them easier to use and giving them longer staying power. As such, silicon anodes that allow EV batteries to charge faster, retain more energy, and last much longer are imperative for widespread usage to become reality.
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