Chu Says Next Generation of EV Batteries Could Be Just Five Years Away

· · 7 years ago

The electric vehicle batteries that will make plug-ins competitive with traditional gasoline cars might be closer on the horizon than we think. That's according to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, who said in a speech yesterday at the United Nations climate talks in Cancun, that dramatic improvements in range, size and affordability are likely just around the corner.

“Is there any hope of being competitive with an internal combustion car engine? The answer is yes,” Chu said, as reported by Bloomberg. “It’s not like it’s 10 years off. It's about five years and it could be sooner. Meanwhile the batteries we do have today are soon going to get better by a factor of two." The Secretary said tomorrow's batteries will be required to last at least 15 years; be six to seven times more powerful; and three times cheaper.

So is Chu's prediction based on some piece of information he has about a major breakthrough in battery technology that might be coming soon? It's possible, but more likely the Secretary is just a big believer in the avenues that are being explored—and given his background, he probably understands them as well as the most qualified scientists working on better batteries.

Last week, the DOE announced that it would loan 25,000,000 hours on its "Jaguar" and "Intrepid" supercomputers to a consortium of lithium air battery researchers. Those computers hold the combined rough processing capacity of more than 100,000 laptops. The researchers will use the computers to test a working prototype of a fully-rechargeable lithium air battery, which the DOE notes:

“...can potentially store ten times the energy of a lithium ion battery of the same weight. Realizing this enormous potential is a very challenging scientific problem. If successful, this will enable rechargeable batteries that compete directly with gasoline, making fully electric vehicles practical and widespread.”


· EGM (not verified) · 7 years ago

It's great to see what can be accomplished when a "big believer" in clean, renewable energy and electric propulsion, is in a position to do something about it.

I'm looking forward to the day when driving is free from diesel soot and ICE smog.

The "electric" future is bright!

· Jim1961 (not verified) · 7 years ago

I'm sure Republicans will find a way to kill funding for this technology.

· Michael (not verified) · 7 years ago

5 years away, and, then again, maybe not. What technology? How many times have we heard this over the past three decades? I can't believe this guy made a speech out of pure conjecture. Maybe he is trying to win the Noble Peace Prize.

· Lad (not verified) · 7 years ago

From a scientific perspective he may be right; however, from a political viewpoint there are too many people and industries that stand to lose if battery technology progresses that fast...especially the Oil folks who control powerful lobbying forces in Washington. They stand to gain by stalling progress and with their continued spending on campaign funding, they will succeed in slowing electric cars coming to market.

· · 7 years ago

"The Secretary said tomorrow's batteries will be required to last at least 15 years; be six to seven times more powerful; and three times cheaper.

1) Last 15 years - Probably doable if you assume 10 years in the EV and 5 years repurposed in the grid.
2) 6x to 7x more powerful - Not needed given the typical consumer range required. Also, would take too long to charge at home anyways. 2x would be overkill, but likely to happen.
3) 3x cheaper - Not enough. Needs to be 10x cheaper or more to hit a $15K MSRP price point for a compact sedan EV.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago

Hmmm, someone can tell me, how somebody will test the durability of 15 years in the next 5 years, when the not yet have the computer time loaned?.They should have a working prototype right now...
6x to 7x more powerful. Absoluteley necessary to reduce the weight of the battery
3x cheaper, if there mass production maybe, if there will be enough lithium availible....

· · 7 years ago

@Anonymous - "Hmmm, someone can tell me, how somebody will test the durability of 15 years in the next 5 years, when the not yet have the computer time loaned?"

It involves math. Scientists are usually pretty good at math.

As for lithium supply, using 140 grams per kWh current generation EVs will need ~3.4kg of the stuff. A million metric tons can produce enough batteries for 580 million vehicles. We have over 27 million metric tons of lithium in current reserves across the globe. That's about 56kWh of lithium battery capacity (2.4 EVs worth!) for every man, woman and child on the planet... I think we'll be okay.

· · 7 years ago

Sorry for the double post.

@indyflick - "3) 3x cheaper - Not enough. Needs to be 10x cheaper or more to hit a $15K MSRP price point for a compact sedan EV."

Using the Leaf as an example only because I'm most familiar with it and it has the most data available:

The Leaf's battery pack is said to cost only $9,000. If we reduce the price by a factor of 10 that reduces the price by $8,100... $32,000 - $8,100 = $23,900. Not sure how much you thought the battery cost but it is not the lion's share of the vehicle's MSRP. You COULD build an EV for $15K but then it'd be exactly the kind of featureless tin can ecobox people think EVs inevitably are, which would not help the technology's image. At least with the Leaf you're getting only slightly less than $32K worth of car in terms of features and performance. Once people accept that EVs are "real cars" and become comfortable with their performance, you can start cutting back on the extras and bring the costs down.

· · 7 years ago

I didn't hear the speech, but did Chu say it was going to be a LI battery? The liquid salt battery is already ready for production. You use cellophane and liquid salt and a 1,500 hour battery for your computer would be about the size and as thin as a credit card. The liquid metal battery is also ready for production and with that one you use aluminum and two other metals that is in great abundance. Both of these batteries can hold a super charge and take you over a 1,000 miles between charges and with Japan's super charger can be charged from zero charge to full in 15 minutes or less. If either of these batteries is mass produced, the cost and size would be about that of an acid lead battery or cheaper and can come to market in about three years.

So Chu is right on the penny when he said "in five years or less." The future battery for electrics won't only compete with fossil fuel, it will greatly exceed all our expectations.

· · 7 years ago


If you have any sources for those claims I would be very interested. All of the "liquid salt" batteries I'm aware of are actually *molten* salt, operate only at temperatures over 350 degrees F and have lower effective energy densities (per mass) compared to Li-ion types. If there was some breakthrough in design I would really love to read about it.

· · 7 years ago

New and better batteries in 5 years?
I've heard that before, and it might possible in the lab, but it will take much more time to bring that technology to the consumer with world-wide availability. Remember last week's news with Chevrolet not having enough batteries for the Volt.

· · 7 years ago

@Smidge204, the LEAF won't be a point product in Nissan's stable in five years. The LEAF is Nissan's 1st gen EV platform from which a variety of vehicles, across many segments, will be derived. There will be a target market which desires a Fiesta/Cruze class sedan, with $15K price point, which the LEAF platform could accommodate, given a sub $1K battery pack.

· Michael (not verified) · 7 years ago

@Lad, I think you may have been watching too many Michael Moore conspiracy theory movies.

There is too much profit potential due to customer demand to hold down good battery technology. The political motiviation, if anything, is to subsidize BEVs.

· · 7 years ago

@Michael, the problem with your argument is that conspiracy theories cease to be considered conspiracy theories when actual data. In this case we actually have empirical data on these batteries because not all of the EVs were crushed. Hundredsr of RAV4 EVs were spared and sold to customers. Owners of these vehicles report excellent performance and durability from these NiMH batteries after all these years!

Here's an interesting article.

· · 7 years ago

@indyflick - I don't think we disagree on that point, but rather that the battery - which might be the most expensive *single component* of the EV - is not the overall controlling cost of an EV like the Leaf.

· Lad (not verified) · 7 years ago

Google COBASYS, HISTORY, for the tie in between oil companies and the control on NiMH batteries and try to accept what you read without a "pre-bias." Remember all the oil companies in the U.S. are members of The American Petroleum Institute, their lobbying firm in Washington, so one oil company knows what every oil company knows about business dealings

· · 7 years ago

Alright "Smidge204", here is a URL you can look at: . This is probably what Secretary of Energy Chu was talking about.

· · 7 years ago


While that is a very interesting technology development, Li-Titanate is not a "liquid salt" battery since there is no liquid and the salt is lithium salt just like every other Li-Ion chemistry out there.

What you have there is a lithium-ion battery that uses a lithium based (vs carbon based) anode. While this design allows very high power they tend to suffer from lower energy density than other Li-Ion designs. The article you linked describes an application that suits this capability very well: "managing voltage and frequency fluctuations, because of its ability to rapidly absorb energy from the grid, and just as quickly discharge energy back into the grid." Exactly how much energy it stores is never mentioned, probably because it isn't relevant to the application - but historically it would be less than other Li-Ion formats for the same mass.

For electric vehicles, power is important but not as important as energy density. Li-Titanate is probably not the optimal choice for EVs.

· Jake (not verified) · 7 years ago

Hopefully he is correct, though we don't have to go 5 years or even 10 years for better EV-only range. Those early low-mpg worries about the Volt might have been a non-issue if only it used bigger, better lithium batteries, and not the ones it's using from LG. What, did that company just strap a bunch of battery cells from its cell phones, ship it to GM and call it a day? Seriously, though, I think the 41K would have been more justified if the car had a higher EV range, which would translate to higher 'mpg', whatever that means in a car whose gas engine doesn't power the wheels (directly).

· Michael (not verified) · 7 years ago

@Lad, You know what I say to the oil companies, "good luck with that". For every battery company they buy up, 10 more will spring up. This isn't the government. There is no monopoly on batteries. There are a million ways to build a battery. It's time everyone get over the 1960's "big corporation conspiracy" mentality. It's been proven over and over that big companies get lazy and sloppy, and small companies come in and kick their butts. It's called capitalism. GM was the largest corporation in the world. They had over 60% of the market share in the U.S. in the 1960s. It just went bankrupt last year, guys. People should be more worried about hostile governments that control the raw materials for the batteries. That's a 21st century issue.

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