5 Concerns About Electric-Car Batteries
Electricity may be the auto fuel of the future, but a lot remains to be answered about the batteries that house it.
If you believe the headlines, electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are about to take over the world. Soon we'll all be silently gliding around in Trader Joe's parking lot, free from foreign oil, climate-change anxiety and all other earthly cares. This year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit drove the point home as Ford, Tesla, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and others flaunted electric cars of all species. More importantly, the first real EV offerings, the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, recently hit the streets to much fanfare.
Indeed, it seems that electricity is winning the alternative-fuel war, which makes us both excited and a bit concerned. Carrying all those electrons around requires big, high-voltage batteries. And many questions are yet to be answered about these oversized copper tops — some good, some not so good.
Here, we examine five of the most troubling concerns about EV batteries.
1. Will This Thing Die on Me?
People don't like being guinea pigs, and many would-be EV owners are wondering if the large, pricey batteries that power electric cars are going to last. The bottom line: Nobody knows yet. Makers of plug-in hybrids and EVs tell us their batteries will last "the life of the car," but that is vague. Both the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt carry an 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty on their battery packs, which is encouraging. Also, the track record for conventional hybrid batteries has been strong, with Toyota Prius batteries easily living beyond 200,000 miles.
But the lithium-ion batteries used in plug-ins like the Volt and pure EVs like the Leaf are different from Prius batteries. They are composed of different chemistries and are much larger. They also endure greater punishment during daily use. A Prius battery delivers power in short bursts as it helps the gasoline engine along, and is then recharged as the car brakes. EVs and plug-in hybrids, on the other hand, deplete their batteries nearly all the way — a process called "deep discharge" — which is significantly more taxing on the cells and can diminish their life span.
However, your primary concern with these batteries should not be their outright death, but rather a gradual drift into senescence. Lithium-ion batteries lose storage capacity over time; how long does your 5-year-old laptop battery hold a charge? This means your EV's range will decrease as it ages — and the more aggressively you drive, the faster that happens. Nissan and GM both acknowledge that their high-voltage batteries will hold less and less electricity over the years, and that their battery warranties cover only what they deem abnormal decreases in range. This means that if you buy a Leaf, which has a 100-mile range, and your commute is 50 miles each way, you might have to move in a year.
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2. Will There Be Enough Lithium to Support EVs?
News headlines like "Will Afghanistan become the 'Saudi Arabia of lithium'?" have appeared in the press a lot recently. As the name suggests, lithium-ion batteries, of the sort favored for electric cars and plug-in hybrids, are based on lithium, a mineral mined from the earth or extracted from brine. The world's current supply of lithium comes from very few countries. A third of the current supply comes from Chile, but Bolivia and Afghanistan also have massive deposits. If Americans start driving electric cars in earnest, the question naturally arises: Will we be at the mercy of the world's producers? It's a question that sounds eerily familiar, right?
At least for the foreseeable future, it seems we're in good shape. A recent research paper from the Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Ill., concludes, "It appears that even an aggressive program of vehicles with electric drive can be supported for decades with known supplies." Analysts also argue that as the demand for lithium ratchets up, new deposits will be unearthed. Greg Cesiel, engineering group manager for the Chevy Volt, says General Motors isn't worried: "There's a lot of lithium out there. We don't anticipate any shortages."
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What this article failed to mention is how practical are all-electric vehicles for the average American? Sadly only people who live in the city and only commute 40mi will buy them, you can't charge them quickly on long trips. I think hybrids are better because they give the best of both worlds.
To those who think there are no emissions on all-electric vehicles you are wrong, most electricity in America is produced with coal.
Natural gas may be the best answer. It is less expensive than electricity or gasoline. It is so plentiful that it can almost be considered inexhaustible. It can be created from any organic source including our own grabage and sewage, in fact it is so easy to make that all trash dumps give off natural gas. It already exists in most homes, so cars can be refeuled at home. Natural gas refeuling stations already exist.
The engines are cleaner throughout their operating lives than electric cars, no electric power from coal, no environmentally unfriendly and expensive batteries to manufacture, wear out, replace or recycle.
Natural Gas vehicles are less expensive than electric cars, in fact several car companies already make all Natural Gas powered cars. Look at the Honda CiviC G. The Honda Civic G, in my opinion, is our best option for living and driving greener...
I'm not exactly a rocket scientist but where are we going to get all this electricity to run our cars? Nuc fuel, coal burning? I'm thinking this will do nothing but run up our electric bill for home heating and cooling, something most people can barely afford now. (supply and demand)
When will someone come up with a better mousetrap on this thing? It has to be self contained either through solar panels on the top or some kind of recharging apparatus on the wheels themselves to keep up the charge.
Plugging in only trades one problem for another, IMO.
My girlfriend and I have a Honda Hybrid and even though the gas mileage is great, they don't tell you the down side to things. Like there are two catalytic converters on the car and they have to be constantly changed, they are notorious for going out. The Big Battery when it finally dies, will cost $3000. That the electric in the car is super sensitive. Or anything in that car when it breaks down will cost at least $1000 or more and they have made it to where you have to take it back to the dealer. When the warranty runs out is when things start breaking down. When the car was under warranty, and just a few years old the one catalytic converter had to be changed, shortly after the other catalytic converter, now another one has to be replaced. Catalytic converters use to last a good ten years. We had a flood and had the water go into the engine we would have been at a serious loss. I know this may sound bad, but I honestly think we should stay with gas power.
In December I made a road trip from Phoenix to Denver in a 2004 Prius. It is my buddies car. It had 75k miles and the battery was in excellent shape. This car is a POS. We could not carry any speed up long hills. We were at 15mph at the top of some of these hills on the highway with a speed limit of 75mph. How safe is this? It also took us 20 hours!! 20!! I could do that trip in my Suburban in 11 hours. We only got 30mpg on the trip to. My Suburban gets 17mpg all day and it is 4 wheel drive with big rims. Someone explain to me how a hybrid is good? I just don't see it. Also we will run out of Nickel before oil at the pace we are on. What does this solve? Changing one natural resource for another? Doesn't make sense to me. I am all for better technology but it needs to be for the future and not to be cool and hip right now.
Also the desiel's in Europe has really bad emissions compared to ours. There standards are way different from ours. However if they get 75mpg in a full size sedan (jaguar) and we get 25 mpg in one over here it would make sense in the long run the diesel could be better.