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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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EV Battery Breakthrough: Twice The Range, Five Minutes To Charge

The amount of research being done into better batteries for electric cars is perhaps the clearest indication of how high the stakes are in the car world. Breakthrough after breakthrough comes from labs around the world, and the latest is among the most impressive: a new anode material that can increase a battery’s range twofold while greatly accelerating charging times.

The news comes from the Center for Energy Storage Research at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology. A team of scientists from the center succeeded in developing a silicon anode to replace the graphite used currently in EV batteries, greatly improving their performance.

silicon is not a new material for the battery-making industry. It has a much greater energy storage capacity than graphite—ten times as much, according to the news release of the KIST—but it is a lot less stable than graphite. This means that silicon, unlike graphite, expands and shrinks quickly during charge-discharge cycles, which affects that impressive storage capacity and shortens the life of the battery.

The KIST researchers solved this problem by drying the material. Literally. They mixed silicon and corn starch with water and then heated the mixture up using “a simple thermal process used for frying food” to seal the result, which was a carbon-silicon compound. The compound has displayed four times the energy storage capacity of graphite anodes. It has also made it possible to charge an EV battery to 80 percent in just five minutes. And it’s eco-friendly.

"We were able to develop carbon-silicon composite materials using common, everyday materials and simple mixing and thermal processes with no reactors," the lead researcher, Hun-Gi Jung said. "The simple processes we adopted and the composites with excellent properties that we developed are highly likely to be commercialized and mass-produced. The composites could be applied to lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage systems (ESSs)."

This last statement makes the breakthrough different from most others: their authors tend to be guarded in their optimism and with a good reason. Taking an innovation from the lab to the market doesn’t always work out. But if that carbon-silicon compound that the KIST researchers developed can indeed be commercialized quickly, it could do wonders for the EV industry.

A lot of research in the field seems to focus on new electrode materials and new electrolytes to make the batteries more reliable, cheaper, and—the Achilles heel of EVs—faster charging. German scientists, for example, recently developed a new electrode coating process that lowers the cost of the whole battery while boosting its energy density. Other researchers are experimenting with alternatives to lithium as an electrolyte and electrode component to improve on the dominant tech.

While the breakthroughs make headlines, the evolution in lithium-ion batteries continues without much fanfare but with impressive outcomes. A BloombergNEF study recently revealed that the cost of an EV battery pack has fallen from $1,000 per kWh a decade ago to between $156 and $200 per kWh today. This is still not as cheap as internal combustion engine cars, but it is much closer to the cost parity target, which is $100 per kWh.

In the meantime, energy density has been improving, which means the range has been growing. Tesla’s latest car to hit the market, the Model Y, has a range of up to 315 miles on a single charge.

It’s all good news, it seems, even if global EV sales are slowing down. All large carmakers are ready with a lineup of electric models to respond to emerging demand that all hope will flourish. There remains only one problem, then, over the long term. EV batteries can’t last forever. There will be millions of these ready for recycling in just a decade if sales projections materialize. And recycling costs money, too.

“What still needs to percolate through to the industry and consumers is that the end of life, whatever it is, will come at a cost, and that has to be incorporated into the selling price,” the CEO of Belgian chemicals producer Umicore, Marc Grynberg, said last year. “There’s a fee to be paid.”

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Keith Sheppard on March 01 2020 said:
    Is this new technology based on silicon or silicone? Both spellings are used and they are completely different substances.
  • Wisdom Lost on March 01 2020 said:
    "There's a fee to be paid"?

    Shouldn't the expended battery be a commodity? In the early days of recycling, glass and aluminum were repurchased by recycling centers because they were a relatively cheap source of materials.

    Shouldn't there be a period of "recycled materials are cheaper" during the initial supply-chain development, that should drive a buy-back program for recycled batteries? Wouldn't supply/demand make the used batteries valuable while raw materials supplies are strained by initial adoption?

    All that aside, increased density AND faster charging will have a real impact. I have not purchased an EV due to the need for longer range in a full-sized truck. Density and charging speed need to improve hand-in-hand, as larger capacities will required longer charging, otherwise. I can consider a 250kWh battery in a truck, if I can recharge in ~10 minutes, and get 300+ miles while towing. The only other major consideration would be the charging network, and whether I can charge at a public charger with a trailer in tow.
  • Stuart Halliday on March 01 2020 said:
    Yet another claimed breakthrough without an actual product.
    It's just a Lab trying to get investment guys.

    Until we see a phone or car battery on sale, it'll just be yet another Lab adding itself to a _long_ list of other Labs over the last ten years claiming they've got a better battery.
  • Lee James on March 01 2020 said:
    Easy to slip up and say "silicone" instead of silicon.

    Hope this new battery development from Korea works out!
  • Arch Region on March 02 2020 said:
    The price of electricity storage to power cars has been coming down and the article points out that it not that far from parity with gasoline. At between $156 and $200 per kWh today while this is still not as cheap as internal combustion engine cars, it is much closer to the cost parity target, which is $100 per kWh. However the article reassuringly concludes that recycling of batteries costs money, and therefore this cost should be incorporated into the selling price. The implication is that with all the improvements we may still need gasoline ten years from now.

    However in my view there are two logical mistakes with this thinking.

    a) If we start including indirect cost for gasoline, demand for gasoline would shrink to zero in a decade or faster depending which costs you decide to include. The lowest estimate I have ever seen for indirect costs for gasoline is a tiny $0.85/gallon, while I have see estimates of $15/gallon just for the global climate change costs.

    The Center for Investigative Reporting concluded the cost for Global Climate Change at every step in the consumption process, including the extraction of crude oil from the ground and the evaporation of toxic chemicals, like benzene, when you undo the gas cap or lift the nozzle comes to $15/gallon. $15/gallon, however, does not reflect the cost of externalities, like oil spills, water pollution and reduced crop yields, in addition to increased rates of asthma and respiratory diseases caused by air pollution, which would add an other $5 to $10/gallon according to some older estimates for a total of $20/gallon to $25/gallon (which by the way some still consider to be underestimates).

    If any of these costs are incorporated into the selling price of gasoline, the price for a barrel of oil would soon go to zero, reflecting demand for oil would be zero.

    This is why the EPA argues, the public health and environmental benefits of the Clean Air Act of 1990 far outweigh the costs by a very conservative margin of four to one.

    Other countries, working to bear the cost of gasoline use, enact "eco taxes" to direct funding toward social programs and renewable energy. Germany, for example, charges about $1 per gallon as an eco tax in order to fund these programs. Germans pay more than $8 a gallon for gasoline and in Netherlands, gasoline is close to $9.

    At these prices per gallon of gasoline, we haven't even started to address the true costs of gasoline. We have be paying all along these exorbitant prices for oil because for a long time there was no alternative to gasoline at any price.

    However now electric storage provides an alternative. Furthermore he benefits of driving electric cars also includes quality of life issues such as drivers stuck in traffic breathing easier without inhaling noxious exhaust fumes, or they would rest easier knowing that their children could run and play outdoors without being poisoned by unhealthful levels of ground-level ozone. The benefit of driving an electric car is not just saving money from oil's externalities.

    b) The second logical error is that in a decade 100% of the valuable metals and other materials in lithium batteries will be recovered, processed, and reused making the cost of new batteries less expensive not more, compared with batteries made with freshly mined metals.

    This may explain some of the motivation behind the divestment movement.
  • Thomas Moore on March 02 2020 said:
    Well, there is always a cost, as we found out ever so gradually with our fossil fuel industry.
  • Thomas Moore on March 02 2020 said:
    Well, there is always a cost, as we found out ever so gradually with our fossil fuel industry.
  • Bill Simpson on March 03 2020 said:
    Actually, we should be entering the next ice age about now. The 15,000 years between ice ages should be ending fairly soon. Without global warming due to our burning fossil fuels, ice sheets would soon cover a lot of the Northern Hemisphere, where billions of people now live.
    If given the choice between global warming, and trying to survive an ice age which is about due, take the global warming. Surviving on an ice sheet is tough. Check out Antarctica or Greenland.
  • rd engineering on March 20 2020 said:
    That sounds like another desperate attempt to try to defraud the economics of truth!
    ice engines are on the verge of superior breakthrough via pnuematic,variable timing,
    which not only provides unlimited torque and power curves for each application
    there are 3cyl turbo engines now producing 600 bhp,so if you think the days of the eci engine has been outdone by some over priced paritable option,think again!
    The costs will remain more viable,so this will assure ice,hybrid ice/electric vehicles to travel far more effectively and efficiently and the recycable ability of the ice powerplant
    has a great future atleast 2050,without the mumbo jumbo of overhyped concepts that overall simply just don't stack up bang for buck (period) rest assured ice is here to stay!

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