Range anxiety is one of the biggest factors that put people off buying an EV. Well aware of this, car and component manufacturers are constantly looking to increase the range through bigger batteries, better aerodynamics and more efficient on-board systems.
Such is the maturity of lithium-ion battery development that we're now looking at marginal gains; the odd per cent here and there, rather than the game-changing improvements we're likely to see when solid state batteries become available and cost-effective. This has led to companies focussing on other components, with the latest innovation from Bosch focussing on semiconductors. It has infused carbon atoms into silicon, creating silicon carbide, which in layman’s terms conducts electricity better.
Bosch's new semiconductor (the disc pictured) technology can be applied across all relevant electronic components on an EV, meaning each needs to draw a little bit less energy to do its task. Essentially, more power from the battery can be used for movement of the wheels rather than the wipers. And when all of these little efficiency gains are added up, Bosch reckons that its new semiconductors are good for a six per cent gain in range.
Putting that six per cent into context if you 'Bosched' the heck out of a new Renault Zoe, its range would be almost 15 miles more than the standard 242 miles. This is a decent increase for switching out what seems an inconsequential component.
It's not just Bosch and its silicon carbide semiconductors that will help manufacturers to get the most from lithium-ion batteries. Here in the UK, a £55 million grant from the Faraday Institution has recently been shared between six universities to support the research and development of so-called 'smart electrodes' as part of the “Nextrode” programme. These will help unlock yet more energy efficiency from batteries, making them more robust and enabling EVs to go further.
Neil Morris, CEO of the Faraday Institution, said: “It is imperative that the UK takes a lead role in increasing the efficiency of energy storage as the world moves towards low carbon economies and seeks to switch to clean methods of energy production. Improvements in EV cost, range and longevity are desired by existing EV owners and those consumers looking to purchase an EV as their next or subsequent car.”
Other projects being funded and jointly run by universities and industry partners include cathode design with the combined aim of taking lithium-ion technology as far as is feasibly possible, given its expected dominance for at least the next decade. As we recently reported, Tesla, in partnership with Dalhouse University in Canada, may have the jump on next-generation cathode tech.
Its research has shown that by altering the structure of the cathode makes it far more resilient to repeated charge and discharge cycles. For Tesla, this breakthrough may well herald the start of production of the fabled 'million mile battery' – one which can be charged thousands of times without losing significant capacity.
Despite development of lithium-ion technology continuing at a frantic pace, many commentators believe that solid-state batteries are the future for EVs. The Faraday Institute, Tesla, and companies like Bosch are working on these, but for now, at least we know that lithium-ion has plenty of life left in it yet!