Technologies that will make electric vehicles even better

Lightyear One in the Death Valley
Lightyear One in the Death Valley

In 2010, when the first generation of mass-produced electric cars started to arrive, I felt that automakers were undermining electric cars on purpose.

Back then, most legacy automakers decided to use LMO battery cells with poor energy density and short cycle life in their electric cars. The biggest advantage of those cobalt-free battery cells was the lower cost, nonetheless the electric cars were being sold with a price three times higher than their gas-counterparts. Only Tesla went with high energy density battery cells, which at that time were available in the form of NCA cylindrical cells – mostly made for laptops.

Fast forward to today, now legacy automakers actually produce decent electric cars, but they could already be much better.

 

In this article I’ll sum up some already existing technologies that will soon make electric vehicles even better.

 

  1. 800-volt systems
  2. Silicon anodes
  3. Cobalt-free batteries
  4. CTP battery packs
  5. Solar roofs
  6. V2G and V2L
  7. Aerodynamic improvements
  8. Wireless charging

 

800-volt systems

BYD e-Platform 3.0

BYD e-Platform 3.0

 

800-v systems – especially when combined with silicon-carbide (SiC) semiconductor power electronics – greatly improve electric powertrains, making them more efficient, smaller, lighter and cheaper.

Porsche, Hyundai and Kia are already producing electric cars with 800 volts electrical systems instead of the usual 400 volts. However, BYD will be the first automaker to make this technology available in affordable electric cars.

 

What makes 800-volt systems better than the usual 400 volts?

 

The latest results from research on 800-volt battery-driven vehicles show that this could lead to smaller, lighter, and more environmentally friendly motors. Cars using these powertrains could also be charged faster and travel further on a single charge.

One such advantage is that 800-volt electrical systems allow a greater retention of power, which is normally lost through heat generated during the charging process. A higher voltage system allows a lower current to be used when charging the battery, which reduces overheating and allows better power retention in the system. This power can be used towards a longer driving range.

Higher voltage systems also offer a number of key weight- and mass-saving advantages. The reduction of copper is one of these. Electric motors are much simpler than combustion engines in construction and at their core they have a rotor, which turns in response to a rotating magnetic field created by electricity from the battery. To achieve this, electrical systems often use up to four times the amount of copper found in combustion engines. Using higher-voltage systems can lead to the amount of copper used in motors being significantly cut.

Besides reducing the weight of motors, an 800-volt system has the added advantage of reducing their mass too. Since the higher voltage allows the motors to run at speeds of 20,000 rpm, well over double that of their 400-volt siblings, they have better power density. This means that they convert electrical power to mechanical power with this speed and not high torque. “In general, motor size is defined by torque capability,” Bitsche says, which means removing torque from the equation allows motors to be much smaller. So much, in fact, that smaller high-speed motors can weigh as little as 25 kilograms, with the result that they reduce the overall weight of a vehicle, enabling it to travel much further on a single charge.

Shifting to 800-volt systems: Why boosting motor power could be the key to better electric cars

 

 

Summing up, with 800-volt systems, electric cars will get more efficient, lighter, smaller and cheaper powertrains.

 

 

Silicon anodes

Enevate silicon-dominant anode battery charging chart

Enevate silicon-dominant anode battery charging chart

 

In the last few years, battery technology evolved mostly by introducing improvements to cathodes, while anodes remained almost the same. However, the next big evolution in battery technology will happen with the upcoming replacement of graphite anodes by silicon.

Battery cells with silicon anodes are more energy and power dense than their graphite counterparts. This battery technology goes hand-in-hand with 800-volt systems, since both are required for electric cars to achieve extremely fast charging rates.

Moreover, silicon anodes can also be used in battery cells with cobalt-free cathodes, such as LFP (LiFePO4) as Guoxuan already demonstrated.

Summing up, with silicon anodes, battery cells will increase their capacities and reduce their charging times.

 

 

Cobalt-free batteries

Battery chemistries comparison by Tesla

Battery chemistries comparison by Tesla

 

Soon, cobalt-free batteries will become standard in electric cars, either with LFP or LNMO cathodes. While more expensive high-nickel content chemistries, such as NCM 90, NCA 91 or NCMA will be relegated to some niches, where getting the most range is important.

Thanks to cobalt-free batteries, electric vehicles will finally be able to compete with their ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) counterparts in price and availability.

 

 

CTP battery packs

BYD battery pack evolution

BYD battery pack evolution

 

CTP (cell-to-pack) batteries are module-less and go hand in hand with safe cobalt-free battery cells, such as LFP (LiFePO4).

While in most battery packs, having modules increase their safety by functioning as metal firewalls in case one or more NCM/NCA battery cells burn or explode, they serve no purpose when used with LFP battery cells, since these super-safe battery cells won’t catch fire or explode even if punctured.

 

One example of a good CTP battery is the popular BYD Blade battery, which has high VCTP (Volumetric cell-to-pack) and GCTP (Gravimetric cell-to-pack) ratios. This means that in the battery pack, the active material – that actually stores energy (battery cells) – is proportionally higher in terms of volume and weight than the passive material, that only serves to protect and assemble the battery cells.

By getting rid of modules, the VCTP ratio of a battery pack can increase from 40 to 60 %. With CTP, batteries become simpler, lighter, smaller and cheaper.

 

 

Solar roofs

Hyundai IONIQ 5

Hyundai IONIQ 5

 

Electric cars with solar roofs are a no-brainer, especially now that solar cells have become more efficient and extremely cheap.

In some situations, a good 300 W solar panel roof in an electric car could add around 2 kWh to the battery per day and would be enough to drive an extra 10-15 km.

 

 

V2G and V2L

Kia EV6 with V2L capability

Kia EV6 with V2L capability

 

Solar roofs, V2G (vehicle to grid) and V2L (vehicle to load) are some technologies that could soon become standard in EVs. How cool is that you will be able to use your electric car as a large mobile power bank that can be charged with solar energy?

 

The EV6 is equipped with vehicle-to-load (V2L) function that works as a convenient, portable electricity supply for your daily life or leisure activities.
It can serve as an emergency power source for your home. In fact, EV6 supplies up to 3.6kW of electricity and it can also work as a portable generator when enjoying the outdoor activities.

Kia EV6 world premiere

 

Some examples where large mobile power banks can be useful:

  • Vacation house in a remote area without access to the electrical grid
  • Construction work in remote communities
  • Farmers’ market
  • Music festivals
  • Camping
  • Emergencies during a power outage
  • Charging other EV

 

 

Aerodynamic improvements

Lightyear One in the Death Valley

Lightyear One in the Death Valley

 

We can increase the range of an electric car, either by adding more battery capacity or by increasing its efficiency.

For example, Tesla recently reduced the battery capacity of the Model S and still managed to increase its range by improving the overall efficiency.

 

While improving the powertrain or reducing the weight of the vehicle are valid methods to increase the overall efficiency of an electric car, the improvement in aerodynamics has the highest ROI (Return of Investment). Electric powertrains are already extremely efficient and thanks to regenerative braking, reducing the weight isn’t as important as improving the aerodynamics in an electric car.

 

Not all electric cars need to take aerodynamics as serious as the Lightyear One – that we see in the image above -, but it’s obvious that most electric cars still have a big room for improvement. Just look at current Volvo electric cars to see what I mean…

Besides the design of the vehicle itself, there are many cheap and easy ways to improve the aerodynamics of electric cars. Let’s see some examples below.

 

  • Smaller wheels
  • Aero wheel caps
  • Fender skirts
  • Flat underbodies
  • Cameras instead of side mirrors

 

 

Wireless charging

 

Not only is wireless charging essential for autonomous electric vehicles, it will also make the use of public charging infrastructure safer and more convenient. No more worrying about having the charging port or cables vandalized by some caveman that hates electric cars.

 

Autonomous electric vehicles are the future of personal mobility—but with no driver, who will plug in the vehicle to recharge it? The answer is clear: No plugs, no wires. Park-and-charge wirelessly and autonomously…with WiTricity technology.

— Alex Gruzen, WiTricity CEO

 

 

We’re done for today, these are some technologies that already exist and have the potential of making electric vehicles even better.

 

Did I forget anything? What do you expect from next generation electric cars? How can today’s electric cars become even better?

Pedro Lima

My interest in electric transportation is mostly political. I’m tired of coups and wars for oil. My expectation is that the adoption of electric transportation will be a factor for peace and democracy all over the world.

63 Responses

  1. Znczrd says:

    Me no like electric car but me no caveman!

  2. Swissli says:

    👍 👍 👍

  3. Gaston says:

    For the end user, only 2 count : LFP (security, price, longevity) ang V2G (especially if LFP).

    Solar roof still look like a gadget, isn’t more green and overall efficient to have these cells installed as usual (residential) ?
    IMO it can be standard in the country where it may pay back, but not where it wont (like Norway).
    As this later one is still market n°1, it might explain why solar roof are not so popular.

    I would love to be wrong, but even if such option cost 300€, it will have to produce about 300€/0.15€kWh=2.000kW!!!!

    • Pedro Lima says:

      Roofs with solar panels will age better, no more paint peeling from sun damage…

      • Ricardo says:

        I like to, and can, leave my car in the shade so, no solar panels for me. On the roof of the house, thank you. The other stuff, cannot wait, especially V2H.

    • Frederico Matias says:

      in Portugal is currently (prices peaking now) more like 0,15 EUR/kwh + Tax (1,23) so around 0,185…anyway still long time to breakeven…

      Even my home solar (photovoltaic) setup (1,5kw) installed in April 2019 and with current updated data (June 2021 so 2 year + 2 months) still needs a total of 7,5 years ROI….hopefully during this time (still 5 years + 3 months) I don’t have any problems with the overall system (6 panels + 3 microinvertes).

      The issue is that many people in large buildings cannot have solar panels… if they leave car in street in sun, they can somehow have some compensation… but as mentioned believe this is only really useful in countries with lots of sun… Norway is cool for this in June/July (over 20 hours sun time) but other than these 2 months… no way…

  4. Rodri says:

    Well, not a technology, but a ban on combustion cars before 2030 would focus all the resources on bringing better battery tech sooner to the market. The new Euro 7 emission standard, currently in discussion, better be good.

  5. Maximilian Holland says:

    Great thoughts Pedro.
    Obvious to say, but worth remembering that further refinements to aero (mainly held back by aesthetic conventions), including removing mirrors, and improving wheels and low RR tires – will continuously improve efficiency, which is a virtuous circle for range/pack cost, weight.

    • Frederico Matias says:

      smaller wheels (which are majorly for aestethics) definetely one way…it increases efficiency tremendously.

    • Pedro Lima says:

      Thanks Max, I knew I was forgetting important stuff.

      Added aerodynamic improvements to the list.

  6. NickM says:

    Great article. Which of these technologies do you think we’ll see first?

    There are of course other innovations, which might or might not pan out: solid state batteries (Solid Power), 3D batteries (Prieto), etc. It will be interesting to see what else comes along.

    For an “outside the box” example, look at Aptera: 3-wheels, lowest Cd anywhere, motors are in the wheels, composite body wih no radiator, as cooling happens through the skin. And solar cells on the roof.

    • Pedro Lima says:

      These 3 will become common very soon:

      • 800-volt systems
      • Cobalt-free batteries
      • CTP battery packs
      • Rok says:

        I would guess aero improvements will also take more important role in the future. Also, it looks motors are getting finally more focus.

  7. Mário says:

    How about gears?
    Porsche uses it and some consider that will improve efficiency.
    I’m not a fan but I would like to know your thoughts.

  8. GarethC says:

    This is such a good article. Someone mentioned motors. Already pretty damn efficient, but are they getting lighter or cheaper?

  9. Famlin says:

    @Pedro: News for you. Tesla Model 3: MIC: LFP version has 88% share.
    https://insideevs.com/news/516453/china-lfp-share-tesla-model3/

  10. Famlin says:

    toyota goes rogue by financing those who opposed biden election.
    boycott calls for toyota are growing.

    https://www.newsweek.com/boycott-toyota-calls-after-company-defends-donations-election-objectors-1604639

  11. Ramsés says:

    and Plug & Charge

  12. Julcreff says:

    Weight loss is a must

  13. MJC says:

    Very good article. However, I think you should add weight reduction for cars in general. There is a lot more that could be done to remove excess weight from a car… more so that making batteries lighter. Not enough urban 2 seater/3 wheeled vehicles. Also being able to make same form factor batteries with different chemistries.

  14. Juan Carlos Moreno says:

    Soy muy partidario de tu filosofía para el transporte. Grande Pedro.

  15. Josef Šoltes says:

    Hi Pedro, I see that you prefer lifepo for EVs in the future, as mainly it is cheap, but as far as I can tell, it will be very close in price per kWh with other chemistries, mainly due to much higher energy density, which are sometimes right over the corner.

  16. skoen says:

    graphene-based technology and the GAC Aion V looks promising..

  17. luc says:

    Pedro, I am confused about 20-80% recommendation for charging the EV.

    Is it valid when we charge with low amper, ~3kW – 22kW? Or should we keep to this rule only when we charge with DC? Any link, if you could paste here it will be helpful 🙂 

    • luc says:

      Okay, I did some investigtation. If I am correct it doesnt matter if we charge our BEV with DC or AC between 20-80%. In both cases voltage is increasing, but for DC faster what is bad for batteries. Am I right Pedro?

      • Pedro Lima says:

        Hi.

        Sorry for the late reply, sometimes I read the comments and plan to reply later, but then forget to do so.

        The increased SOC (state-of-charge) always brings higher voltage and at higher voltage the electrolyte inside the battery cell can slowly start corroding the electrodes.

        That’s partly why low voltage battery cells such as LFP (3,2 V) and LTO (2,4 V) have higher cycle life than higher voltage cells. This is also what currently prevents 5 V battery cells from becoming mainstream.

  18. Miran says:

    Hello Pedro, tell me please, if you know, why almost all EV are not capable of pulling a trailer. Thank you.

  19. Miran says:

    Hello, tell me please why almost all EV are not capable of pulling a car trailer. Thank you.

    • Buutvrij says:

      Almost any EV can pull a trailer, even small ones. Just look at Polaris EV utilityproducts. It mostly has to to with regenerative breaking systems. But things are starting to inprove.

  20. Famlin says:

    @Pedro Lima: Important update for you.
    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-11-30/battery-price-declines-slow-down-in-latest-pricing-survey

    Global average battery price at pack level stands at $132 / kWh.
    For BEV, its $118 / kWh
    For e-buses in China, its $101 / kWh

    I expected overall price to go down to $115 / kWh. Anyway we can blame it on Covid. Some decrease is still good.

  21. K. verlighte says:

    Hi Pedro,

    There was a promising start for the application of the dual-anion ionic liquid electrolyte enables stable Ni-rich cathodes in lithium-metal batteries somewhere in 2020 at the Karlsruhe Institue of Technologies in corporation with the Fraunhofer institute.
    The following assessment of the properties was published in the Joule Magazine Vol 5 issue 8 of Aug 2021:
    High-energy batteries, in particular lithium batteries, are the key to achieve carbon-neutral mobility. Current lithium-ion batteries have already enabled a fast-growing electric vehicles market. However, it is foreseen that a fully electrified mobility and transportation can only be achieved by the development of batteries employing lithium metal as the negative electrode while still granting long-term cycling performance and safety. In this work, the outstanding long-term cycling performance of a Li-metal battery employing the Co-poor and Ni-rich (LiNi0.88Co0.09Mn0.03O2, NCM88) positive-electrode material is demonstrated via the use of a dual-anion ionic liquid electrolyte (0.8Pyr14FSI-0.2LiTFSI, ILE). This electrolyte enables initial specific capacity of 214 mAh g−1 and outstanding capacity retention of 88% over 1,000 cycles with an average Coulombic efficiency of 99.94%. The Li|ILE|NCM88 cells achieve a specific energy above 560 Wh kg−1 based on the combined active material masses.

    More can be fond in here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2542435121003020.

    The discovery was nearly two years ago and the confirmation of the KPI’s of this tech is now nearly one year ago. Do you know what the current development status is for this technology?

    • Pedro Lima says:

      Hi, thanks for sharing the article.

      I have to read more about that particular technology to form an opinion.

  22. Mário says:

    Hi Pedro,
    I miss your news,
    There are no news or no time to write about it?
    Please don’t end this project.

    • Pedro Lima says:

      Hi Mário, don’t worry I’m still here.

      I’m now considering to migrate this blog from WordPress to Hugo, to make it leaner, faster and more secure. WordPress is a great blogging platform, but becomes bloated very fast.

      If you’re curious checkout my new project I made with Hugo: https://m3upt.com/

  23. apkungen says:

    WHERE ARE YOU PEDRO!? WE MISS YOU!

  24. Frank says:

    Hi Perdo, I woiuld like to have your opinion between CATL NCM battery and Panasonic NCA. I’m asking because in America Toyota will offer bz4x FWD with Pansonic NCA 71,4kwh battery (150kw charge speed maximum) and AWD with CATL NCM (811?) 72,8kwh battery (100kw maximum charge speed). Subara Solterra (AWD only) should be offered with Panasonic. I would like to have your opinion, it will help me to decide, thanks!

    • Pedro Lima says:

      Hi Frank.

      Are you sure Panasonic is using NCA cells in the Toyota? My guess is that Panasonic is using NCM 622 prismatic battery cells.

      I would need to see the data sheets of both cells to compare, but my guess is that Panasonic produces better quality battery cells than CATL.

      Anyway, I’m sure that both batteries are great since their warranty in the Toyota bZ4X is one million km.

      • Frank says:

        Hi Pedro. I’m not sure it is Panasonic NCA cells but that’s what some reporters said, but it’s not confirmed. I also heard that the battery will not be warranty during 10 years, the 90% after 10 years is only an objective but not a warranty. So if for a similar price we could have a Solterra AWD with Panasonic (let’s say it is NCM 622), it would be better than CATL? (and charge faster!). You need to know that here, in Quebec, it get get very hot during summer (over 30 Celsius), but very cold during winter (-30 Celsius, we had -36). Toyota should offer radiant heater also, but not Subaru, not really sure if I need to take this in consideration. Thanks again 🙂

        • Pedro Lima says:

          Regarding cycle life, I think that Samsung and Panasonic currently produce the best EV prismatic battery cells. CATL is more focused on getting the best energy density and cost.

          However, without comparing data sheets we can’t be sure of which one is better. If they have the same warranty I wouldn’t overthink it, just avoid charging the battery over 80 % very often.

          • Frank says:

            Finally, in Canada, Toyota guarantees the battery will retain 70% of the battery life after 8 years/160 000km. They say everywhere that it’s 10 years /90% but officially, the warranty includes 8 years/160 000 km at 70%. It’s not that much considering the “[email protected] battery and the slow charge speed (100kw).

      • Frank says:

        Correction : latest information says that Subaru Solterra (AWD) in America will also have 72,8kwh CATL battery so the choice is more between FWD Panasonic or AWD CATL ! Thank again!

  25. Rok Gornik says:

    Another interesting technology that could save up some of the juice for longer range: hub motors. Lordstown, Aptera in Lightyear will go with Elaphe solution. How durable are they and how they tackled some of the issues concerning hub motors is explained in this article https://cleantechnica.com/2020/12/23/apteras-hub-motors-survive-torture-testing-other-questions-answered/. What do you think about that?

    • Pedro Lima says:

      I’m not a fan of in-wheel motors. Sure they can pass some limited time testing, but in the long term (years) I don’t think they are reliable. Nonetheless, I’m all for testing new solutions.

      • NM says:

        I am a fan of both Aptera and Elaphe. The in-wheel motor makes sense to me from a weight and efficiency point of view. As with any big change, they’ll have to prove the reliability. I hope they get it right.

  26. NM says:

    Hi Pedro, this is one of my favorite articles on your website (which is also one of my favorite websites). Now that we’re a year on (which is at least 7 EV years!), would you consider posting a follow-on article: which technologies are moving along, which ones may have stalled, and anything new on the horizon? Thanks for having this site.

    • Pedro Lima says:

      Hi, thanks for the kind words.

      I think that the article is only missing the mention of structural batteries, which can be implemented in a good way (BYD and CATL) or in a bad way that makes recycling or repairing a lot harder (Tesla is becoming Apple by pushing for more planned obsolescence).

      Recently, Volkswagen ID.Aero, Hyundai IONIQ 6 and Mercedes EQS are good examples of legacy carmakers paying attention to aerodynamics.

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