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Published on March 26th, 2014 | by Robyn Purchia

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Lithium-Air Batteries Planned By Volkswagen

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March 26th, 2014 by
 

Originally published on Gas2.

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It has been confirmed that Volkswagen is working on a powerful new battery for its EV fleet. Speaking at the Geneva Motor Show, Dr. Heinz-Jakob Neusser said that “an 80kWh unit is under development using our own technology. It would provide between three and four times the battery power in a given package.” This means that a battery of equivalent physical size to that used in the new 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf could hold the amount of energy in a top-end Tesla Model S.

Neusser refused to name the specific battery chemistry, but didn’t deny it’s a lithium-air unit. Lithium-air has been a battery holy grail of sorts since the 1970s, but obstacles such as electrolyte degradation, manufacturability, and high cost have prevented the lithium-air takeover that would truly catapult EVs into the mainstream. But improvements on lithium-air technology continue to move forward with recent work by researchers from Mie University in Japan.

The primary distinction between lithium-ion and lithium-air batteries is that lithium-air batteries replace the cathode with air — which results in a notably lighter battery, with the potential to hold in a great deal of energy. Some researchers have stated that these “breathing” batteries could result in EVs with ranges greater than 300 miles a charge.

“Our system’s practical energy density is more than 300 Wh/kg,” Nobuyuki Imanishi, PhD stated. “That’s in contrast to the energy density of a commercial lithium-ion battery, which is far lower, only around 150 Wh/kg.”

A technology breakthrough of this kind could transform the range capability of hybrids and EVs, and Volkswagen isn’t the first car manufacturer to recognize the potential. Toyota Motor Corporation has tried to avoid the use of lithium-ion batteries, like those present in its Prius Plugin-EV and RAV4 EV, as much as possible due to their high cost. But the company is currently conducting research on the use of lithium-air technology.

“As Toyota anticipates the widespread use of electric vehicles in the future, we have begun research in developing next-generation secondary batteries with performance that greatly exceeds that of lithium-ion batteries,” Toyota wrote.

If Volkswagen and Toyota are successful in developing lithium-air batteries, that could mean bad news for Tesla Motors, which is currently in the process of bringing Elon Musk’s planned “gigafactory” into life. The factory would enable the car manufacturer to dramatically increase lithium-ion battery production.

But Musk shouldn’t abandon his plans just yet. Volkswagen hasn’t provided a timeframe for these new batteries, regulating its announcement to the “wouldn’t it be nice” category for now.

And it would be nice to have Tesla-like range in a new, compact EV car, don’t you think?

Source: The Telegraph | Image: Jo Borras/Gas2.org

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, field work, and most recently writing. Be inspired to connect your spirit to environmentalism on my site Eden Keeper. You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .



  • Michael B

    I think the author means “relegating” rather than “regulating” in the penultimate paragraph. Sincerely, the Word Police :-)

  • Jouni Valkonen

    This is just a distraction that Volkswagen is trying to tell to the politicians that electric vehicles are not yet ready for the mainstream, but they are requiring new technology. So that Volkswagen does not need to develop a competitive electric vehicle.

    In real world Volkswagen does not have even remotely promising new battery tech.

    In other words this means that Tesla will have complete monopoly at lest for the next five years for selling Model S and X and strengthen their position as a serious player, because VW group is not going to challenge Tesla with competetitive electric vehicles.

    • Zer0Sum

      I would be happy if I could get a new 30km EV which charges in 3 mins for the same price as a Dacia Logan which is around E7k in these parts. Plenty of cheap renewable hydro electricity round here so charging stations will be all over the place when that price point is met. Tap my bankcard against the front panel to charge just like a ticket on the subway. Even easier if my electronic road toll device attached to the front dash made the payment for me out of my online prepaid account along with the rest of my road tax charges. If the car had wireless conduction then I could just roll up to the parking spot and sit there for a couple of minutes or get out and stretch my legs if I needed a break. Put a swing nearby for the kids and it’s a done deal. I have to break every 30km anyway to stop the baby from going mad in the backseat.

      • Jouni Valkonen

        you can buy electric scooter. Or just buy bicycle so that your body will stay in good shape.

        • Zer0Sum

          Sorry, where do I put the wife, kids and the groceries?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Where do you think?

            On the scooter….

          • Bob_Wallace

            One more…

          • Michael B

            I like the kid in the “bucket seat”.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            The point was that at this point electric vehicles are meant for mostly upper middle class.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yep. Anyone who can’t afford a $199 a month lease, about 75% of which will be paid for in gas savings, is clearly below upper middle class.

            Pretty much means that anyone who can afford to drive a paid off car is upper middle class.

          • Zer0Sum

            Just wondering why I am expected to pay >$20k for a runabout if I can get a brand new one for < $10k? If I don't need an octocore smartphone with 3d cameras to send/receive the occasional sms or urgent phone call do I still have to buy one?

          • Jouni Valkonen

            yes, you are a consumer! We live in consumption led economy. When you are buying top of the line technology, it will push the boundaries of technology and everyone are better.

          • Zer0Sum

            So you are saying that EV’s are only viable as a commodity if they are sold at high prices in small quantities? That it is not useful to have cheap EV’s like we have cheap ICE’s? That there is no market for low cost EV’s with low range and minimal no frills packaging?

            Do you think that mobile phones should only be sold if they are worth more than $500. There is no market for sub $100 mobile phones?

            Keep in mind that for the vast majority of the world E10k is more than 2 years salary. That is the fiscal equivalent of spending E200k on a luxury brand for people who are earning the average minimum wage compared to a household earning a decent E100k/year.

            Are you really saying that car companies should ignore the low income majority and only the rich should be allowed to play with the new Electric toys?

            Also are you suggesting that the rich are not interested in owning a low cost runabout. At sub E10k that’s almost a disposable vehicle for someone who earns more than E10k/month. By your logic the rich are also not interested in disposable cameras, cheap subglasses or eating fast food either.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            The point is that if you are buying $100 cell phone and you have enough income to buy $700 cell phone, then this means that you are a bad consumer. And because of you technological progress is slightly slower.

            If we have goal to optimize technological progress, then incentives should be such that they encourage to buy high quality (often, but not always expensive) products.

            As electric vehicles are competitive above $50 000 price category, I have suggested that it would be most efficient if there was severe penalty tax for ICE cars that are valued more than $50 000 before taxes. This would encourage the wealthy to buy millions of electric vehicles each year and scale benefits would push the technology forward.

            Later on also cheaper cars will benefit. E.g. adaptive cruise control was first introduced into top class premium vehicles, but now you can find one from almost all well equipped middle class cars.

          • Zer0Sum

            If I only need a E7k EV with 30Km of range/charge there is no reason I should buy a E80k Model S. That is just egotistical. The rest of my E73k can be spent on solar panels for my house, additional battery storage, better insulation, a second or third car, donations to a charity of my choice and many other basic consumer items. In addition I am keeping a lower energy footprint because the total energy cost to produce a very cheap EV is significantly less than the cost to manufacture a more expensive option.

            EV’s should be like phones. They should come in all shapes and sizes and we should be able to replace them quickly and efficiently with optimal recycling and minimal left over waste.

            Removing the ICE and all the associated moving parts frees us from the current pricing model. We should expect to see sub E5k cars come to market when the price of batteries drops enough to allow 30km no frill solutions like the Dacia Logan.

            Why should I be forced to purchase all the other crap that the car industry keeps forcing on us when I can do nearly everything I need with my tablet anyway.

            If they can produce cars that give me access to the underlying control systems from my tablet all I need is the raw shell with builtin in standardised components and an open API to know that I can do everything I need. Jumping from one EV to another could be an 18 month cycle just like with my PC/Phone/TV/etc…

            In other words EV’s should become just another consumer electronic item that is accessible to the majority not only the elite. The cheaper they can make em the better off we will all be and ICE’s will become a curious historical item. I hope my kids never have to drive an ICE because that means we will have made it through the Eigenwelde to the electric future.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            In other words you are a sub-optimal consumer.

            The poor are also bad consumers, but they cannot help themselves to be good consumers. This is why we need Governments like in Norway to ensure that there are no poor people, but the poor can be raised into middle class so that they can be good consumers.

            Good consumers have enough purchaising power to buy top of the line sustainable products. If you just choose the cheapest available, you will get someting Made in China crap that is produced in horrible environmental and humanitarian conditions.

          • Zer0Sum

            Not at all. Low cost products can be made efficiently without having to cut corners, damage the environment or use slave labour. You may not like it but in some countries the minimum wage and cost of living or doing business is so low that it is simply uncompetitive to manufacture anywhere else.

            On the other hand companies like Apple that seek to maximise their profits while minimising expenditure, manufacturing to the letter of the law but not to the principals they market themselves as upholding and sell their over priced products to elitists like yourself will probably continue to exist for a long time to come.

            Feel free to spend your Norwegian Government subsidised oil money on their products but don’t take away the option of buying lower cost and lower “perceived” quality products manufactured by other companies whether they are Chinese, Eastern European, Indian, South American or African from the people who don’t have a nanny state to look after them.

            There also a case to be made for rich nations spending their wealth in poorer economies. That way wealth is distributed more evenly and you can feel good about helping Juanita feed her seven children from the money she earns working at the components factory that manufactured the plastic light fitting for your indicator lights.

            Norway can keep competing with the higher end of the market and using it’s higher education to push forward with advancing progress of all but negatively judging people who choose to spend their money on less expensive items or simply cannot afford to purchase from the higher end of the market is simply an elitist attitude.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            You are thinking too black-and-white. You need to think the economic system as a whole.

            I did not say that expensive equals good. I just said that very often (not always) those products that are pushing boundaries of sustainability and technology are more expensive and they are often locally produced.

            Certainly 30 km ranged EV is as far away removed from the boundaries of technology and sustainability as can be!

            It is not elitist attitude, but it is realistic attitude. If you understand how market economy works, it is based on consumer demand. The higher the consumer demand for high quality products is, the better market economy works for the proggress of technology.

            The good thing is that government can with good regulations and good incentives very efficiently direct consumer demand into sustanable and high quality products.

    • Doug Cutler

      Ya, from all I can gather there are still many problems to solve with lithium-air. Could be many years away yet. My sense is that solid-state lithium is much closer to market. I sometimes wonder why it doesn’t get more discussion here.

      • Jouni Valkonen

        I disagree. I think that Solid State batteries are just Toyota’s ploy to tell politicians that electric vehicles are not yet ready ready for main stream because “current lithium batteries are too unsafe”.

        My guess is that we will not have any revolutionary changes in battery tech, but instead we will have evolutionary betterment of batteries. Every innovation in battery tech and robotics can get the cost of batteries only into one direction.

        • Doug Cutler

          I’m not saying your wrong. Certainly Toyota has had some very bad behavior of late. But Toyota’s announcements on solid-state lithium are of a different character than vague ones by Volkswagen on lithium-air. They claim field testing to begin next year and commercial roll out by end of decade. I admit I’m a bit of a next gen car battery cargo cultist. Maybe I should get some help for that.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            It is good to follow Tesla. Tesla does not assume any disruptive new battery technology for the next 5 or 10 years and certainly they understand that there are no need for disruptive new battery tech. But instead they are predicting about 30 % or 40 % incremental improvement in cost performance by 2017. And this should be enough for electric vehicles to be competitive as upper middle class car.

          • Doug Cutler

            You know Tesla’s stock value is currently almost half (42%) of GM. Even Elon Musk thinks this is over-generous but hey, many analysts think he’s just getting started.

            GO TESLA!

  • Sufiy

    All we we need is better and cheaper batteries now…

    Warren Buffett can be right after all with his investment in BYD. After few tough years and exaggerated expectations company is making progress. BYD Electric Buses are making headlines all over the world now and BYD Qin Plug-in Electric Car seems to be on par with its technology, pricing and general expectations for the New Energy Car for its customers. New Energy is the key here – government in China is pushing again very strong towards cleaner economy to beat the horrible air pollution crippling life in all major cities across China and state-level plan to revolutionise and electrify the transportation is well underway. Now the Lithium based technology finally is making its possible.
    Tesla Model s is going to be the very big hit among affluent Chinese customers, it will be interesting to see who can compete with Tesla Model E coming in a few years time to the Electric Cars mass market.

    http://sufiy.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/powered-by-lithium-byd-bus-sets.html#

  • peter farkas

    Tesla´s commercial lithium ion batteries used now have 260 Wh/kg. 300 Wh/kg is no breaktrough. Critical feature is speed of charging. How fast will you be able to charge lithium air batteries?

    • hacup

      I disagree that speed of charging is the most important feature. If I have a car that can drive 1500 km per one charge then charging time is not that important because you can simply charge overnight.

      • peter farkas

        I don´t think we will see mass market EV with 1500 km per charge in next 10 years. That is around 300 kWh. Even at 60 USD/kWh – less than 1/4 of today´s Tesla, it will be around 18.000 USD just for battery.

        • Bob_Wallace

          There’s no need for 1500 km/900 mile range. 200 is adequate for all day driving. Drive 200, rapid recharge for 20 minutes (grab some food, pee, check messages), drive 180, charge 20m, drive 180.

          Over 500 miles and you’ll get there about the same time as someone driving a gasmobile. They’ll have to stop once for 5-10 minutes for a refill and make separate stops for food/etc.

          Longer range would be nice, but we don’t need more than 320 km/200 miles in order to kiss gasmobiles goodbye.

          • peter farkas

            Everyone has different needs. I drive 600 miles in one day twice a month on a highway at 90miles/hour with 2 stops for max 30-40 min. For that kind of trip I need 300 miles real life range. I know I am exception, but that is what I need. In real life you dont want to be completly empty when you reach the charger. You want to have at least 30-40 miles left if anything unpredictable happens

          • Bob_Wallace

            A few people are going to be outliers.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            That is more likely 90 % of car owners, who desire longer range. This is especially important in Germany where there are no speed limits on autobahns.

            Also large batteries are good for grid storage, because people can charge their car when renewables (wind+solar) are available.)

          • Bob_Wallace

            Personally I don’t give a damn about the Autobahn. That’s a unique situation.

            What we need are EVs that allow most people to drive all day on electricity. We can take care of the niche drivers later.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            200 mile battery is probably too small for 20 min charging.

            But if you have 300 mile battery, then it is possible to charge 180 extra miles in 20 minutes.

            I think that the 300 mile range is at the sweet point for electric vehicle to be practical and desirable for the majority.

            Still, when 115 kWh Model S will arrive, my guess is that it will be the best selling version of Model S. People desire more range.

            Also my guess is that 48 kWh base model for Model E, will not be best selling version, but people will pay about $10k premium for larger battery.

            (and irrelevant for the topic, my guess is also that AWD version of Model E is the best selling version and if Tesla is wise, it does not even offer other than AWD version. This makes Model E truly compelling car that will knock out Audi A4 from the markets!)

          • Bob_Wallace

            Toshiba’s SCiB battery takes a 90% charge in 20 minutes.

            There’s likely a “sweet spot”. I’m talking about the threshold at which EVs become fully functional for all day driving. Even if it takes 30 minutes to grab a 90% charge that little extra will result in no real additional time for an all day drive.

            Especially when one considers the cost per mile savings.

          • Doug Cutler

            At the right price I think a 200 mile range would be enough to get a huge chunk of the early majority in the adoption cycle. Informed consumers would gladly work in an extra stop or two with their occasional long range driving.

          • Bob_Wallace

            When you consider how infrequently we travel further than 150 miles per day it looks to me that most people would be inconvenienced very rarely.

            If we had a <$30k, 200 mile EV available I think people would buy them as fast as they could come off the assembly lines. A lot of the early purchasers would be multi-car households that would figure that the could use 'the other car' for long trips. Then they'd drive the EV for a while and realize that stopping to charge a half dozen times a years was no big deal.

          • guillone

            Bob,
            I think you nailed it.
            That’s probably why they haven’t done it.
            They couldn’t keep up with demand and people would get in a bidding war for EV cars.
            Car manufacturers are not ‘benevolent folks’ out to solve transportation issues.
            We are looking for a ‘third car’ EV as you describe,
            but other than the Tesla, there is no viable alternative.
            I’ll be dead before the automobile industry builds an affordable, high mileage EV. It’s going to take 100 more guys like Musk to shake up the auto industry before they will ever move off their duffs…..

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let me show you one of my favorite graphs.

            I think we’re short years before we start the very fast switch to EVs. It’s feeling to me that we’re going to see much better batteries in the next 2-3 years.

            Right now Tesla is offering a 400 mile battery pack for their Roadster. The Roadster, as sold, had a 200 mile pack.

            I’ll also show you a picture of the battery pack in the Roadster. I simply don’t see much room to install a larger pack. I think Tesla is installing a much higher capacity pack about the same size as the original pack.

            If capacity is rising that fast (and i did say “if”) then we’re about to see mid-range (cost) 200 mile range EVs. Sales volumes should take off. Economies of scale should bring prices down to ICEV levels.

            Manufactures will build what buyers want to buy.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            I think that 200 mile range is good for about 20 % of car owners provided that there is good charging infrastructure, which there will be when there is more than 1% of car population is electric.

            Many 60 kWh Model S owners have been dissatisfied for the range.

            Also smaller battery is liability, because it lifetime is probably shorter than larger battery and it cannot accept as fast supercharging.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’d say a 200 mile range is good for 97+% of all drivers.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            that is utterly untrue. The most common complaint of 60 kWh Model S owners is the too short range. And this is the very reason why 85 kWh version outsells 60 kWh version and only few percent of customers wanted 40 kWh version.

            Norway is good example that short range EVs has about 5 % market share although EVs are significantly cheaper there than comparable gasoline vehicles.

            Also the actual range of Nissan Leaf is only about 50 km at -20°C & 100 km/h.

          • Bob_Wallace

            There’s a difference between “good enough” and “I’d like more”.

            A 200 mile range with an ample number of rapid chargers would make it possible to drive all day long and arrive at about the same time as someone driving an ICEV.

            That’s good enough.

          • Colin Phillips

            I think it depends on the market. In the US it’s not uncommon for people to drive 100s of miles every day. Whilst in the UK, daily driving commutes for most tend to be a max of 50 miles. There are a small minority of people that would commute 100 miles to work e.g. BristolLondon, or BirminghamLondon. Any more than that, and people would look at you funny.

            Journeys 100 miles or more in the UK are considered painful, and tend to be infrequent (holiday trips, visiting relatives). We would also typically take a break after driving just 100 miles. So a London to Manchester trip would involve a pit-stop half way.

            So you get the idea. We live in a little island, and everything is relatively close. Don’t need to pop to another city to buy a pint of milk. Such high population density markets (UK, Netherlands, Germany, Japan) should do well for short range electric vehicles. Instead it’s the low population density country Norway that is a Tesla hotspot.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            Commuting car is good idea, but this is only for more wealthy, who can afford to have two cars in their garage. I would say that less than 5 % of car owners are opting on separate “green car” for commuting and other normal car for normal using of car.

            Therefore short ranged electric vehicles are good only for less than 5 % of car owners.

    • Dan Hue

      Where did you get 260 Wh/kg? I think 150 is a better estimate.

  • No way

    Nice article. And I loved the ending of not getting carried away by what might be done in the future but to focus on the present.

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