It’s been a long time coming but electric vehicles – EVs – will soon reach a tipping point and start to overtake petrol cars.   But for that to happen a great leap forward is needed in range and battery technology.

The race is on.

In January this year we heard a slew of announcements about forthcoming EVs.  Every car maker is jumping onto the EV bandwagon.  GM announced the Chevrolet Bolt, rolling off the production line in 2017.  Nissan has announced the Gen II Leaf which we’ll see in 2018.  And Ford are working on the Model E which I expect in 2019.

And that’s not to mention the ludicrously brilliant Tesla range already in production.

But the problem remains – range.  200 miles (the current de facto standard) is simply not good enough.  Those in the business refer to ‘range anxiety’, that dreaded feeling you get when you don’t know whether you’ll make it to the next charging station before you run out of juice.

That’s no way to build a new car category.

So the race is on to solve it.

I’m thinking of launching ‘The Lenigas Prize.’  A large amount of money for the team who comes up with the solution, and can make a battery do at least 400 miles.

I’ve got my eye on a few places where the breakthrough might happen.

Top of my list is Elon Musk, and the boys and girls at Tesla.  Their boffins are some of the smartest (and most fun) in the business.  Elon claimed last year he’d have a 600-mile plus range by 2017.   This needs a slight caveat, as it’s based on test conditions (and a plodding 24 MPH), so the real world range would be less.  But still 400 miles+.

Carmakers like Nissan, whose current Leaf does 150 miles (making it suitable only for town or city), are targeting 375 miles with new battery tech.  Nissan are experimenting with amorphous sodium monoxide, as a replacement for carbon, to increase energy density.

This week the boffins at the University of Texas at Dallas announced a breakthrough with lithium air technology (basically batteries that ‘breathe’ oxygen from the air instead of having to store an oxidiser internally.)  This could pump up the theoretical energy density by 10-fold and the range to at least 400 miles plus.

And over in Chicago the US Dept of Environment has set up the Joint Centre for Energy Storage Research, or JCESR. It’s modelled on the concentration of brainpower the US pulled together for the ‘Manhattan Project’ in the 1940s.  The DOE has pumped in $120M of funding and between them the 14 partner organisations are aiming to develop batteries with 5 x the energy density, at 1/5 x cost, in 5 years.  It’s called the 5-5-5 approach.

But without wishing to throw a spanner in the works let’s not ignore China where there are incredible leaps forward going on. China is already the largest lithium market in the world, taking on the established leaders in the lithium battery game. My mate Kirill Klip who blogs about lithium here, reckons China may this year become the largest EV market in the world.

So could it be China where we see not only the range issue being solved, but the cost issue.  The Chinese will be able to mass produce the batteries at a fraction of the cost.

So frontrunners for ‘The Lenigas Prize’?  Where would you put your money?  Let me know.




Written by David Lenigas