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.”