Batteries New ARPA-E RANGE program tackles range anxiety.

Published on August 22nd, 2013 | by Tina Casey


$36 Million To Banish EV Range Anxiety, Forever

August 22nd, 2013 by  

Sequester or no sequester, the Obama Administration has just pledged $36 million to kickstart a new program called RANGE, for Robust Affordable Next Generation Energy Storage Systems. Basically the program aims to wallop the range anxiety issue once and for all, by accelerating the development of advanced, long range EV battery systems while lowering the cost of EV batteries. The funds are being distributed to 22 projects in 15 different states through the Department of Energy’s Advanced Projects Research Agency – Energy (ARPA-E).

As the Energy Department’s counterpart to the legendary DARPA defense research agency, ARPA-E is looking for cutting edge, transformational technologies that will launch the US into a transportation landscape dominated by electric vehicles, sooner rather than later.

22 Pills To Cure Range Anxiety Ills

Along with a number of public and private research universities and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the funding will go to the sustainability heavy-hitter GE,  BASF, and two companies that we’re not familiar with (yet), EnZinc and Cloteam LLC.

We’ve covered GE’s many green tech projects previously, especially its new “brilliant” wind turbine, and the company will get almost $900,000 to develop a water-based flow battery (flow batteries are based, literally, on the interaction of liquid flowing along another liquid or solid).

New ARPA-E RANGE program tackles range anxiety.

RANGE EV battery research funding courtesy of ARPA-E.

BASF has been transitioning to a green chemistry model and was recognized with a Presidential Green Chemistry Award in 2010, so we’re going to be paying a lot more attention to the company from now on. Its ARPA-E funding of $4 million will go to the development of low cost alternatives to the rare earths used in nickel-metal hydride batteries.

EnZinc will work with the Naval Research Laboratory to develop a zinc-air battery under a $450,000 award, and Cloteam is getting $3.5 million to develop a collision-resistant battery pack system.

The complete rundown of projects is available from ARPA-E, including at least two projects that address battery weight by designing the pack as an integrated feature of the vehicle chassis and/or frame, rather than as a separate component.

An EV In Every Pot

The new ARPA-E funding fits snugly into President Obama’s EV Everywhere initiative, which has been pumping millions into research and public-private partnerships to get more affordable EV’s into the hands of consumers. The goal is to make owning an EV just as affordable as owning a gasoline vehicle within the next ten years.

The RANGE program also fits neatly into the Administration’s JCESR advanced energy storage initiative, along with the new critical materials research hub and other foundational research initiatives.

As for EV range anxiety, when you take “EV” out of the equation, all you’re left with is the need for travelers to gauge their distance and fuel availability before setting off, no matter what their means of conveyance — walking, cycling, riding a horse or driving a vehicle.

For that matter, despite generations of familiarity with modern gasoline gauge technology, running out of gas is still a common occurrence, especially when the price of gasoline rises and drivers try to make a tank last until prices fall again. AAA reported a spike in out-of-gas distress calls back in 2011, when its Texas affiliates alone handled more than 1600 calls a month from members stranded with an empty gas tank.

Errr…so there.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Wayne Williamson

    Kind of off subject but what we really need are very cheap lion batteries. I agree that all the research needs to continue, but why are the existing batteries so expensive.
    Why can’t I walk into a store and buy a pack of 18 AA ones for like 18 dollars. I would think the tech is mature. The raw materials are cheap. Just saying…..

    • Wayne Williamson

      Just noticed this thread is months old…oh well;-)

  • Frank

    This is certainly good news, as we all want more energy-dense and inexpensive batteries in our EVs as soon as possible. I find this particular line in the article is somewhat troublesome, however:

    “The goal is to make owning an EV just as affordable as owning a gasoline vehicle within the next ten years.”

    Studies show that over the life of the vehicle, total cost of ownership of TODAY’S electric vehicles is actually the same, or in many cases MUCH lower than, the total cost of ownership of a comparable internal combustion engine vehicle. Perhaps the author meant to use “buying” in place of “owning.” It’s an important distinction, and aside from environmental considerations, this is a key reason why more people than ever are considering purchasing EVs today.

  • Scott Cooney

    This is brilliant. Great coverage, Tina, thanks! It’s about time…the government has invested in infrastructure in so many unsustainable projects throughout history. Anyone that complains about this use of federal money has never studied history.

  • Marion Meads

    It would be best for the government to help build supercharger network infrastructure across the continent. It should be done in conjunction with the electric utilities. The utilities will give you a universal card (similar to credit card) that allows you to charge at any of these supercharger station and then your charges will appear on your electric bill with your supposed rate. Since the business of the electric utilities is to sell electricity, it is just proper that they manage these supercharger stations. This will be a win for electric utilities because they get to sell more electricity (the cost of the stations will be paid for by the government, like it is doing now with some of the charging stations), and a win for customers because they get the same electric rates where ever they charge.

    A private entity building the supercharger station will only drive the cost of electricity more than the price of gasoline per mile when charging from these stations and the EV owners would be reluctant to use these stations resulting in a lose-lose proposition. The private owner of the supercharger station will go bankrupt even if the government pays entirely for the installation.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Imagine a supercharger (20 minute charging) with, say, three cables attached. Cars would be charged in sequence in order of plugging in.

      That would allow someone to plug in and be able to leave their car parked for an hour before they need to move it and give someone else access.

      Imagine how restaurants and retailers like to bring more traffic into their businesses. Customer acquisition has value. It would make sense for businesses to install charging stations in their parking lots and offer a good price for hooking up and juicing.

  • Longer ranges in EV’s depends on the battery, yes – but it also depends of the efficiency of the car, itself. The EV1 is the lowest drag production vehicle; at least up until the VW XL1.

    If the Leaf was as low drag as the EV1, it would have a range of 120-140 miles. I think it would sell a lot better if it had that sort of range.


    • Bob_Wallace

      Wonder what the trade off between aerodynamics and what the market will buy in terms of looks is like?

      The Aptera had a very low drag coefficient but I doubt any ability to sell in significant numbers due to its unusual looks.

      • I am *very* familiar with the Aptera, and yes it is quite unusual looking. Low drag does not have to look all that unusual. Dave Cloud’s Dolphin, or my CarBEN EV5, or the VW XL1, or the EV1, or the Illuminati Motor ‘Seven’ or the Edison2 Very Light Car, all show how varied low drag cars can be.

        The thing is: if a car can deliver 200-400+ miles per charge, I think it will look great! We can’t expect conventional designs to perform very well, because they have been based on a wasteful system – gasoline is so energy packed that designers have been spoiled, in a sense; and they have grown lazy.

        Form has to follow function. No one complains about how airplanes look, right? Cars need to be (almost) as focused on aerodynamics as do airplanes. And once we see how well they work, we will wonder why we liked those fossil fueled behemoths in the first place.


        • Bob_Wallace

          Clearly making cars more aerodynamic will make them more efficient. Cars have evolved over time to become more aerodynamic, the movement started over 80 years ago.

          The issue is how large an evolutional jump the market will support. If a “normal looking” EV uses 0.3 kWh per mile which means a cost of 4c/mile using 13c/kWh electricity would people drive a “weird looking” EV that uses 0.2 kWh per mile to save 1.4c/mile? For the average 13,000 mile per year driver that would be only a $15 per month savings.

          Many people love the looks of the Tesla S and I think really helps to drive sales. I’m not sure sales would be a good if the S looked like Dave’s Dolphin….

          • The cost per mile isn’t the main issue, though. It’s the range on a given battery capacity. The EV1 and ‘Seven’ and the Dolphin can travel at highway speeds using about 150-160Wh/mile, and that means they get about 2X the range with a given battery pack than a typical EV’s does. The VLC Electric uses closer to just 100Wh/mile.

            Seven and the Dolphin go over 200 miles on ~32-33kWh packs – the Dolphin has a lead acid pack! If the Dolphin had even the 60kWh pack from the Model S, it would go close to 400 miles.

            Beauty is what beauty does.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “The cost per mile isn’t the main issue, though”

            I disagree. Cost per mile is what will move people to EVs. To make that movement significant we need a threshold range of about 180 miles. That with <20 minute, 90% recharging makes an EV a 'drive all day' option.

            Over 200 mile range is not likely a big selling feature if one has to drive a 'weird' car to get it.

            Over time our cars might evolve to look like bananas on wheels (to borrow a description from Lovins), but short term I suspect market resistance would be very high.

          • Well yes, all EV’s are very low cost, and the difference between 2¢ / mile and 3¢ is minimal. But with a very low drag car, the initial cost will be much lower per mile of range that the car is capable of.

            The price of the Leaf would be essentially the same whether it has a 75 mile range or if it had a 125 mile range. The latter would be the low drag car – so BOTH the initial cost would be lower and the running costs per mile would be lower with a low drag design.

            That is why I’m building my open source design CarBEN EV5: my intent is to have a 5 seat EV with a 50-55kWh pack that can go 300-400 miles on a single charge.

            That will be a beautiful car, I think.


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