$20 Million DOE Funding Targets $30,000 EV with 240 Miles of Range

By · February 19, 2013

Many electric car fans pin their hopes on a revolutionary breakthrough in battery technology. However, past experience indicates that improvements in energy storage and cost will be incremental. Nonetheless, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (known as ARPA-E) earlier this week issued a funding opportunity of $20 million, a modest sum considering the goal of developing next generation EV batteries with greatly expanded energy capabilities at a significantly reduced cost.

To be clear, the goal of the D.O.E. research effort is to lead the way toward an electric car capable of at least 240 miles of range—with a price tag of around $30,000. That’s simultaneously a tripling of range and a price reduction to about one-third of today's cost. If this can happen, the D.O.E. says that next-generation electric vehicles will reach cost-range parity with gasoline automobiles.

Price-Range of EVs vs. ICEs

This D.O.E. graph indicates U.S. electric vehicle price as a function of range in 2012. The correlation between price and range is primarily due to the high cost of batteries. ARPA-E research will try to help erase the gap between EVs and gas-powered cars.

The D.O.E. lays out program details in this pdf. As it states, “ARPA-E exists to support transformational, rather than incremental research.” ARPA-E was originally chartered in 2007, and was first funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Since that time, the agency has funded about 285 energy research projects totaling approximately $770 million (which indicates just how modest the $20 million ARPA-E opportunity is.) The larger goals of ARPA-E are aimed at economic and energy security for the U.S.

What kind of new battery technologies could produce the price and range targets? Here are some examples, in the words of ARPA-E:

  • Development of an electrochemical energy storage chemistry that utilizes non-combustible aqueous or solid-state electrolytes
  • Use of a redox flow battery architecture that is inherently more robust due to the physical separation (storage) of its active components far from the cell electrodes
  • Design of a mechanism that allows a battery to automatically fail in open circuit when placed under abuse conditions
  • Robust designs reducing the demands on system-level engineering and its associated weight and cost
  • Designs liberating the energy storage system from the need for vehicle impact protection, which allows the energy storage to be positioned anywhere on the vehicle, thereby freeing-up the EV design
  • Designs enabling multiple functions, such as assisting vehicle crash energy management and carrying structural load

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