Getting a Glimpse of the Future of Electric Vehicles

Electric automobile

Where the technology is headed

Remember the Sony Walkman, the MP3 player, VHS, and the first portable phones? All were technologies that we thought were revolutionary but were quickly replaced by other technologies. Like these not-so-old technologies, the first generation of electric automobiles will quickly become obsolete. The reason for this is the emerging battery and supercapacitor technology.

Emerging Battery Technologies

What’s the first telltale sign that the existing battery technology is getting ready to see a major shift? Tesla’s purchase of Maxwell Technologies and the major investment in solid-state battery technologies by automakers like Toyota and Volkswagen.

It’s clear about what the end game for electric car companies is. They need batteries that will allow vehicles to travel great distances between charges, but also charge quickly and be safe. Current lithium ion batteries already allow vehicles to travel over 300 miles between charges. But they take a long time to charge and can be subject to exploding.

The Maxwell purchase gives Tesla two battery technologies that will address the charge speed and provide a safer battery for the consumer. Tesla can also avoid any intellectual property conflicts with their current battery partner, Panasonic, if switching from lithium ion technology to Maxwell’s dry battery electrode technology.

Maxwell currently boasts that their current battery technology delivers 15% more energy than the lithium ion batteries currently on the market and are approximately 15% cheaper to produce. This switch to Maxwell batteries could improve Tesla’s immediate position to provide cheaper, safer and more energy-dense batteries. However, I believe the end game is developing ultracapacitors for the ability to charge and disperse energy quickly.

Current Ultracapacitor Problem and Solution

The current problem with ultracapacitors is the ability to hold a charge for a long period of time.  Elon Musk and others already know the solution to this problem, but no technology to solve it currently exists. The solution to providing ultracapacitors a longer discharge life is the super material Graphene. Considered the most electrically conductive material available, Graphene is 200x stronger than steel and only one atom thick. The only issue is the inability to mass produce it cost efficiently.

While waiting for the technology to produce Graphene on a more cost-efficient scale, it appears Tesla’s strong push will be towards the safer, dry-electrode batteries that  are 15% more cost efficient to manufacture and have better energy storage than the current lithium ion batteries. However, make no mistake: ultracapacitors are the future of the electric vehicle market. Ultracapacitors will allow vehicles to charge quickly, last an extremely long time, and be able to deliver much more power for the vehicle at the same or less weight.

To recap, Tesla’s purchase of Maxwell Technologies reveals four things:

  1. Expect decreases in the cost for Tesla vehicles because of the manufacturing efficiencies of Maxwell’s dry battery electrode technology.
  2. Also helping to bring costs down is Tesla owning its own intellectual property and not needing to partner with Panasonic in the future.
  3. Using supercapacitors in combination with batteries will help Tesla’s truck and high-performance vehicles charge more quickly and receive more quick energy and power.
  4. Tesla is betting its future is going to be built around the quick-charging, long-lasting and extremely powerful supercapacitor.
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