electric cars: it’s all about the batteries

The German carmaker Daimler that produces Mercedes-Benz luxury sedans as well as the microcar Smart recently teamed up with Evonik Industries to produce high-capacity lithium-Ion batteries for use in hybrids and electric cars. Daimler now also considers selling batteries to other car makers in the medium term. For the immediate future, Daimler will use the batteries in its own hybrids. The S400 is the flagship of the Mercedes-Benz fleet and from this year on, one version of this fairly large and heavy vehicle will be equipped with a 15KW electric motor beside the gas engine. The so-called S400 BlueHybrid is among the first hybrids that use Lithium-Ion batteries. Most of today’s hybrid cars use the less powerful nickel-metal-hydride batteries because it had been difficult to adapt the Li-Ion batteries for use in cars. Therefore, Li-Ion batteries have been primarily used in laptops and other electronics. Tesla Motors first used Li-Ion batteries to power its pure electric car, the Tesla Roadster, whose battery pack is comprised of about 6800 laptop batteries.

The Japanese automaker Nissan will co-operate with the electronics and IT company NEC to produce lithium-ion batteries for use in hybrids and electric cars. The two companies agreed to invest $1.1 billion. Outside of Japan, new plants in Europe and in the U.S. could increase the production capacity and enable NEC and Nissan to supply automakers in these parts of the world.

The examples above highlight how tight the race for the leadership in battery technology has become. And the #1 reason why everywhere around the world, billions of dollars are being invested into the production of large-capacity batteries is that obviously, once the electric car boom is kicked off, the battery producers that are capable of supplying carmakers with large numbers of batteries with a high storage capacity will make a killing. For those carmakers willing to have a share of the promising electric car business in the future, it is  essential to have access to powerful batteries. The most sophisticated part of an electric car is the battery pack. Therefore, carmakers depend on the best batteries available to distinguish themselves from the competition by providing cars with a larger driving range. Anything else is second-rank. Electric motors are simple and perfected.

In the long-term, batteries might be replaced by fuel-cells which can store much more energy and therefore would allow a higher driving range.  Undoubtedly, the future of the car industry is electric, but the energy will be stored differently in a decade or so.

Another effect of the strong interest in batteries globally is that we’re very likely to see significant improvements in terms of storage capacity which again translates into a higher driving range. And the sooner electric cars are competitive with established cars regarding the driving range, they will finally overtake conventional cars due to their outstanding advantages: significantly lower operating costs, higher efficiency (gasoline-powered cars waste 75% of the energy from the fuel), zero tailpipe emissions and less greenhouse gas emissions resulting from a lower energy consumption. As mass production sets in, the price of the batteries will come down soon.  Simultaneously, the storage capacity and the driving range are increasing.

Especially for European automakers like Daimler, hybrids and electric vehicles are useful to get closer to the EU Commission target of 130 grams of CO2 per kilometer on average. To avoid costly punishments, Daimler is working on a new model strategy in order to cut its fleets CO2 emissions.




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