Within the next 5 years, researchers expect the number of electric vehicles hitting the American roads to reach 8.4 million, up drastically from 1 million at the end of 2018 — obviously, the plug-in sector is growing. Still, many hold the notion that the idea of an EV is a lot more intriguing than the actual prospect of owning one.
In combination with the comparative lack of “fuel” stations, this EV anxiety has to do with the short range of the average all-electric ride. That’s why people who want to trim their footprint often go with a hybrid vehicle instead. But an innovation in solid-state batteries may change the status quo for good, making an EV the new daily driver.
The solid-state battery innovation
Currently, lithium-ion batteries lead the way in US hybrid and electric vehicles. This is no small feat — John B. Goodenough won the Nobel laureate in chemistry last year for his invention of the lithium-ion battery. But Goodenough is a solid-state engineer, so even he knows the merits in moving forth.
These lithium-ion batteries are heavy, giving most electric cars less than 300 miles on a full charge. This contributes to “range anxiety” because most Americans are used to the 500-mile fuel tank range. But switch the system to solid-state batteries — which are more energy dense and about 50% lighter — and EVs will easily be in the 500- to 1,000-mile range.
Aside from the added range, solid-state batteries are also safer. They eliminate the flammability concern that accompanies their lithium-ion counterpart. Instead of a liquid electrolyte component, solid-state batteries are (you guessed it) solid.
Electric vehicles in the current landscape
Right now in the United States, there are plenty of good EV options. Obviously, the Tesla Model S is right up there on top, boasting a 373-mile range in perfectly efficient conditions. That’s pretty impressive stuff from Elon Musk — but bear in mind that this move increases the battery’s energy density by increasing the amount of electrolyte liquid, ultimately increasing risk of fire.
But while the Tesla exceeds expectations, ranges in cars like the Nissan Leaf max out at 150 miles. This isn’t tragic, especially compared with the BMW i8 hybrid’s 18-mile all-electric range. But with gas cars getting from 400 to 500 miles per tank, it makes the average American driver worry whether or not an EV is a sound choice for their day-to-day life — and not just because of money.
Based on the average cost per kWh of electricity, EV drivers only spend an average of $540 on juice each year. In comparison, a fuel driver will spend an average of $1,400 filling up their tank each year. Still, gas cars are so popular because of the accessibility of stations. Even when you travel, you know that you won’t be far from the nearest fill-up spot (there are about 111,000 gas stations in the US).
Meanwhile, you could be right at home and not live within convenient proximity to any electric charging stations.
This worry may soon be a moot point, however, because people are fighting to boost the nation’s EV charging system. Back in February, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Congressman Andy Levin presented a bill that would introduce a widely reaching network of stations throughout the country.
I have a feeling that once we snag the technology for these solid-state batteries and a broader charging network, we’ll trim our gas-guzzling habit at a rapid rate. Instead of an experimental notion, EVs could be the new norm.
How far away are automakers in the US from this solid-state technology?
Some stakeholders say that America is just a few years out from solid-state EV availability. Others say we’re a decade off. So it’s hard to say exactly when it’s coming, but we do know this.
Tesla definitely won’t be the first automaker to reveal a solid-state variant of its EVs. Musk has invested heavily in lithium-ion research, and he’s partnered with experts who are working on an energy-dense innovation.
But makers like Toyota, BMW, Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have all invested billions of dollars into solid-state research — and that’s just the start of the list.
A Chinese automaker has already designed the Enovate ME7, an all-electric vehicle that’s said to include a solid-state battery. Reportedly, this car is set to start production next year.
In the past, researchers faced the issue of battery failure after repeated recharging, but Samsung developed a variant that solves this issue. It’s said to endure a lifetime of 500,000 miles, with a per-charge range of 500 miles.
While solid-state is currently expensive, all new technologies are luxurious until they seep into the status quo.
Another missing ingredient: widespread renewable energy
When compared to fuel-drinking drives, EVs are an eco dream. They produce no emissions on the road, though they do have their downfalls in the production line. Despite all this, increased energy density in electric vehicle batteries will help minimize the amount of electricity they use.
But the real missing ingredient is widespread renewable energy. With solar and wind powering our electricity, we could make post-consumer EVs completely sustainable.
For now, we’ll see where the solid-state batteries take us — but a girl can dream, right?