Edge of tech: Why a “million mile” electric vehicle battery heralds the death of internal combustion engines
Talking about batteries is just about as interesting as Scotch tape or paper clips. We take them for granted, but we all use them. Batteries have been around a long time. In 1938, archaeologists at a dig in Iraq uncovered the earliest -known battery dating back over 2000 years.
The first common, commercially available batteries like what we use today were invented in 1896 by a company that eventually renamed itself Eveready. These were specifically made for a new device called a “hand torch,” later known as a flashlight.
Fast-forward to today. The ubiquitous battery powers everything from watches to electric cars and solar power storage. It is found in satellites and home appliances, rockets and drones.
Electric vehicle batteries : range and MPGe
Batteries have had several key limitations, such as how long they hold a charge, how much power they can deliver on demand and how many charge cycles they can sustain. Let’s dive into one of the most recognizable battery applications, powering Tesla’s line of electric vehicles , known as EVs, and focus on range and how it compares to traditional mpg of gas-powered autos.
Tesla’s first production model car when introduced, the Roadster, had a battery capable of 200 miles per charge. Within a matter of months, with software updates and battery improvements, the EPA rated it at 244 miles on a single charge with 120 miles-per-gallon-equivalent. A total of 2,450 Roadsters were sold from 2008 through 2012.
The next vehicle, and the first high-volume production auto introduced in July 2012, was the Model S full-size sedan with sales totaling over 120,000 cars to date. The current Model S Long Range Plus has an EPA range of 402 miles and 104 MPGe.
The follow-up to the Model S was the Model X SUV, which began production in earnest in late 2015 with a total production to date of over 75,000. The battery in the Long Range Plus version has an EPA range of 351 miles with 94 MPGe.
Next up is Tesla’s Model 3, the most successful electric vehicle in history with more than 350,000 cars sold since its debut in 2017. It has an EPA rated range of 402 miles with 104 MPGe.
The Million Mile battery
Now the game-changer. Tesla has announced a battery upgrade that signals the death-knell for the internal combustion engine. Tesla worked with a Chinese battery company, CATL, to create (and patent) a battery design that can last for 1.24 million miles and a minimum of 16 years of lifespan. Compare that to current automakers with car battery warranties covering 60,000-150,000 miles for 3 to 8 years.
CATL is not prohibited from supplying the new battery to other EV manufacturers, which is a typical Elon Musk move who, in 2014, famously made all Tesla patents available to use. Elon’s goal is to shift the world away from fossil fuel use and to stay ahead of everyone else by out-innovating them.
Why are internal combustion engine vehicles now obsolete?
The most expensive part of an EV is the battery. The threshold for an EV to be price comparable with its non-EV competitors is to get a battery costing under $100 per kilowatt hour. We have now reached that milestone.
Larger batteries allow EV’s to go much further on a single charge, and this new battery should provide EVs with average ranges of 400 to 500 miles or more to start. This takes care of range limitations.
Larger batteries also allow for substantially faster charging. To get to a full charge on any EV battery, the first 50% charges up quickly, while the second half takes much longer. Larger batteries mean the first 50% provides more storage capacity which charges up quickly. Industry pundits expect the million-mile battery to charge up to 250 to 350 miles of range in as fast as 10 minutes.
An auto built to last
Tesla’s drive units and bodies for their mass-production models, such as the Model 3, were designed to last a million miles. Add the new million-mile battery and you have an EV as the first truly multi-generational auto, one that your grandkids will still be able to drive. EVs have a fraction of the moving parts that an internal combustion engine vehicle has, which makes EV’s orders of magnitude more reliable and longer lasting. EV batteries — for example, the ones used by Tesla’s Model S — currently last only 1,000 to 2,000 discharge cycles (a cycle is charging 0% to 100%), which is roughly 300,000 to 500,000 miles. The new million-mile battery is expected to hold more than 90% charge after 4,000 cycles. The average American driver clocks 13,476 miles a year. That translates to roughly 74 years of EV battery usage to reach a million miles.
The bottom line
Our current battle with COVID-19 did have one positive side effect, a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. China alone experienced a 25% reduction in carbon emissions and 50% reduction in nitrogen oxides emissions. Worldwide, daily carbon emissions during the lockdown in early April fell by 17% and could lead to an annual carbon emissions decline of up to 7%.
The tipping point for EVs vs. internal combustion engine vehicles is here. The dramatic cost reduction in solar, wind and hydro energy combined with EVs priced at or below internal combustion engine autos will finally lead to the world dumping its dependence on fossil fuels for power and transportation.
Technology advances will continue to drive down the cost of EVs, and solar/wind/hydro will do the same to electricity. Dump your gas-guzzling auto now for an electric vehicle before everyone figures out its value is about to plummet to scrap metal.