Better Batteries Key to Electric Car Revolution

U.S. Energy Department has ambitious goals for bringing the cost down to $125 per kilowatt-hour by 2020.

Published: 29-Dec-2011

Electric vehicles are still too expensive and have too many limitations to compete with regular cars, except in a few niche markets. Will that ever change? The answer has everything to do with battery technology. Batteries carrying more charge for a lower price could extend the range of electric cars from today's 70 miles to hundreds of miles, effectively challenging the internal-combustion motor.

To get there, many experts agree, a major shift in battery technology may be needed. Electric vehicles such as the all-electric Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid from GM, rely on larger versions of the lithium-ion batteries that power smart phones, iPads, and ultrathin laptops. Such gadgets are possible only because lithium-ion batteries have twice the energy density of the nickel–metal hydride batteries used in the brick-size mobile phones and other bulky consumer electronics of the 1980s.

Using lithium-ion batteries, companies like Nissan, which has sold 20,000 Leafs globally (the car is priced at $33,000 in the U.S.), are predicting that they've already hit upon the right mix of vehicle range and sticker price to satisfy many commuters who drive limited distances.

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