SAN JOSE, Calif.—Slow, steady improvement in battery technology over the past several decades as brought the world to the cusp of a tipping point that will lead to greater adoption of electric vehicles (EV) that could help curb civilization's reliance on fossil fuels, according to JB Straubel, chief technology and co-founder of Tesla Motors Inc.
Delivering a keynote address at the DESIGN West event here Wednesday (March 28), Straubel said that while critics often point out that there is no equivalent to Moore's Law in terms of battery technology improvement, battery technology has slowly improved over many decades, resulting in an average of 7 to 8 percent per year improvement in energy density.
Straubel said battery technology has improved to the point that EVs can offer a driving range of 200 miles or more under normal driving conditions on a full charge. Batteries will continue to improve to offer higher ranges, better performance and potentially lower costs, he said. "Cost is still the most important challenge for batteries," Straubel said.
Tesla was founded in 2003 with a mission to help drive the world toward sustainable transportation, Straubel said. He said that transportation is currently driven almost entirely by fossil fuels. In the U.S., he said, 96 percent of all transportation is drive by petroleum.
"We cannot keep doing that for decades to come," Straubel said. "Certainly not centuries."
Straubel said future generations are likely to wonder why so much of the world's finite supply of petroleum was squandered on relatively short car rides, which he said could relatively easily be replaced with using electric vehicles. In the U.S., he said, about half of petroleum use comes from people who commute 20 to 50 miles per day. While such commuting is easily within the range of EVs from Tesla and others, replacing the petroleum used for longer trips and especially for things like airplane flights is still far beyond current technology's capabilities, Straubel said.
When Tesla got started, there were no active EV programs at any major car companies, Straubel said. Many have since come around and are developing and marketing EVs. Straubel said he finds it ironic that when Tesla was launched, the founders were often asked why if EVs were such a good idea no one else was building them, but that, now that other automakers are offering EVs, Tesla is often asked if it can succeed when so many are working on EVs.
Straubel said Tesla applauds the fact that major automakers have come around. Making a real dent in fossil fuel consumption requires that all automakers offer EVs, he said.
"If we'd launched out to sea and no one followed, if the whole industry sort of stood on the shor and watched, that would have been a really difficult place," Straubel said.
Straubel noted that Tesla has been putting the capability it has developed for making EV components to use for other automakers, including a 2011 deal with Toyota Motor Corp. to supply EV power train systems for use in electric versions of Toyota's Rav4, expected to be available later this year.
You guys have got EVs all wrong.
The Volt and Tesla are "statement" vehicles - like an H3 or corvette. Not what the future of EVs will eventually be.
The real EV market is for a sub $10000 car, with rubber floor mats and two seats. A dock for your cell phone, speedometer, and charge gauge, that's it. No heater, just heated seats. Ultra basic, ultra reliable, no maintanence except for the battery. Underpowered. New battery every 3 years.
Your second car, you drive to work. Or your kids drive it to school. Or your kids drive it at college.
Will the current car companies make this? No way. They want to sell $40k cars. A car like this will come from a company that has no market share at all - like Volkswagen did with the bug. Compare the bug to the cars of the 50s. It is ridiculous how cramped and underpowered it was, but people loved them as a second car. Cause they were cheap and reliable (in their own way).
So picture a car that you get a Costco or Walmart - that is about as complex as a washing machine.
As long as you insist on carrying around your own oxidizer, you'll always lose on energy density. I favor a standard format aluminum-air primary battery or a fuel cell, which in either case uses "free" reagent for half of the reaction.
A prismatic Al-air battery set could take seconds to swap (not hours to charge), you could carry a spare to ease "charge jitters", nobody has to handle high voltage high current charging at the consumer end. The battery station is also a zero-consumer-effort head end for recycling the material in a closed loop. Standard tractor-
trailer delivery just like gasoline.
A tank-fed fuel cell would have a relatively high comfort factor, pumping is pumping more or less, and ought to be on an energy density par with (or better than) fuel alcohol / E85, which our government sees fit to subsidize so it must be great and suitably performing stuff. Methanol could be totally infrastructure compatible at the
consumer outlet end. Fuel cells compatible with longer chain hydrocarbons, I haven't heard much about but a feedstock-agnostic reformer that yielded free hydrogen and carbon powder, would fix your greenhouse problem right up.
General availability: I want to buy an EV - they are just not available across the US yet (the Volt is a Hybrid, not an EV).
Where do you get the "E"? I agree that clean and safe generation is an issue. Lowering our consumption of energy would also be advantageous. I just installed a solar voltaic array on my house for the eventual support of an EV. So while I await actual availability of vehicles, I will just be lowering the amount of electricity I get from our local significantly-hydro-generated power grid.
Great, I've got a new EV that doesn't use fossil fuels. Wait a minute, where am I getting the E for my new EV? OOHHH! from fossil fuels! Without clean E, EV's are a waste of time and a mirage to the ever existing fossil fuel problem.
Are we all that stupid that we can't see the whole picture instead of just one tiny piece of it?
Cars are not the problem. Clean and safe energy generation is the problem. Without clean and safe energy generation we are all fooling ourselves that EV's are going to save the world.
EV is not exactly taking off, despite mass-market offerings and large subsidies:
The article's author is a clear supporter of EV, but the numbers defy the optimism. It is a niche market, and likely will remain that way without some fundamental change in technology.
As to the suggestions of using large banks of improved lead-acid batteries in EV, that seems like an entirely predictable environmental catastrophe, especially in second and third world countries.
$20,000 sounds better than $30,000, but it sounds like around $30,000 is hope for the low price for the third-generation models. And yes, I am sure for the low-end model the range won't be 300 miles per charge. Even the pricing on the Model S covers quite a broad range, starting at $50,000 but going all the way up to about $90,000, I believe. And the biggest factor in the price differention is battery packs and range.
Is the capacity loss year really that high? I've never heard 25% per year. Looking around on the web, the numbers I see are lower than that. Still, your point about capacity loss being an issue, even if it's not 25%, is relevant I think.
We are no where near a tipping point! Lithium batteries lose 25% of their capacity per year. That's 300, 225, 150, 75, 0 miles range after 4 years and the car is not worth putting a new battery in. As lovely a dream as EVs are, they are far, far from a practical option. They are a Marie Antoinette solution. If people have no bread to eat, let them eat cake!
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