The widespread adoption of full hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs) and all-electric vehicle (EV) technology is facing technological hurdles. Major technical breakthroughs are needed in rechargeable battery chemistries to make HEVs and EVs economically viable. That’s the essence of a study by the Boston Consulting Group entitled “Batteries for Electric Cars, Challenges, Opportunities and the Outlook to 2020.”
The study concludes that the long-term cost target of $250/kWh, used by many auto manufacturers in planning for future HEVs and EVs and set by the U.S. Battery Consortium, presents major challenges. It is hampered by the need for a substantial increase in battery energy storage capacity, without the high material and manufacturing costs of such batteries.
“Given technology options, we see substantial challenges to achieving this goal by 2020. For years, people have been saying that one of the keys to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is the electrification of the vehicle fleet. The reality is electric car batteries are both too expensive and technologically limited for this to happen in the foreseeable future,” says Xavier Mosquet, Detroit-based leader of the Boston Consulting Group’s global automotive practice and a co-author of the study.
Nevertheless, the study projects steady electric-vehicle growth. It estimates that EVs sold in the major developed markets of countries like the U.S., Japan, China, and Western Europe will constitute about 26% of new cars sold. It foresees greater use of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries in place of nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries in use today in HEVs.
The study also points to a prominent battery technology, lithium nickel cobalt aluminum (LNCA), that will come down in price by 2020 by 60% to 65% of current levels of $990 to $1220/kWh. This LNCA battery chemistry is one of five promising technologies analyzed in the study. The other four are lithium nickel manganese cobalt (LNMC), lithium manganese spinel (LMO), lithium titinate (LTO), and lithium-phosphate (LFP).
Key to the Li-ion battery pack’s success may very well lie in further development of a polymer film material that separates the anode and cathode of the battery. This film is being developed by a joint venture between ExxonMobil Chemical’s affiliate Tonen General and Toray Industries. Exxon was the first company to commercialize rechargeable Li-ion battery technology.