If you follow a number of news outlets in the automotive and EV-specific world then you will be used to seeing news stories about the latest breakthrough in battery technology. These happen regularly, and often promise anything from hyper-rapid charging through to crazy energy density, and longevity of operation.
Here's the rub: as journalists we want to write stories that are interesting and contain fact. Usually this is easy, but with things like battery technology there is a fine line between what makes a good headline, and what has serious substance underneath. Furthermore, when one outlet runs what looks like a good story, other outlets will often follow suit. Trouble is journalists are not scientists and most are time-poor and therefore don't have the time to interrogate the facts behind a story.
At Discover EV we do our best to sort what's worth reading and what's not. We've worked in automotive PR and journalism long enough to spot most BS, and we often ask questions where others don't, but we don't always get it right. Over on electrek they've been having the same quandary when co-inventor or the lithium-ion battery, John Goodenough, announced a breakthrough which could elevate batteries thanks to better energy density, longevity and low charging times.
In this instance we're talking about sodium-glass battery tech which, in simple terms, uses glass doped with lithium or sodium as the battery's electrolyte and gives all the properties that researchers have long been looking for. But can we trust the research?
Electrek's conclusion after examining the source – John Goodenough, publication in which it was published – IEE Spectrum, and peer review – Donald Sadoway, an MIT professor, was that yes, it's a source and research worth taking seriously.
We fired the piece over to UK-based battery expert and all-round EV man, Dr Euan McTurk, who agrees. But he also knows how to cut through the BS when looking at fresh research, and here he gives you some pointers of what to look for so you can do the same.
It can be difficult for the public to filter out the good from the bad, not least since most of the journal articles are behind a paywall and mainstream media outlets will run with any news that generates clicks, regardless of its integrity. Where presented, or freely available to read, it's worth bearing in mind the following:
Remember, even if a cell chemistry does represent a genuine breakthrough in performance, it will likely take two to five years before it ends up in an electric vehicle that you can buy, since the cell and automotive manufacturers will want to conduct extensive tests to ensure that it is fit for purpose.
From our perspective as a regular publisher of news, we do try to interrogate what news is being sent to us or is being published by our peers in the industry. We also try to frame things accurately, as we're acutely aware that so-called ‘miracle’ technologies are literally too good to be true and more to the point, often won't make it to production.
While we at Discover EV get the excitement of talking to the people behind a lot of the projects we write about, we'd always recommend reading source material where it's linked, and if you take Dr Euan's advice, you too can cast a critical eye over what's being presented in the news.