Electric vehicles have steadily been gaining in popularity. As more manufacturers develop and release new models, it’s easy to envision an all-electric future. But the key to the success of the electric vehicle is their range, which is heavily dictated by their battery capacity. How is all that power stored? Electric car batteries have to be compact, capable of recharging quickly and regularly, and also house plenty of power to get you where you want to go.

This article explores the most common types of electric car batteries, their potential capacity, and how long they typically last.

Types of lithium batteries used in electric cars
Types of lithium batteries used in electric cars

What Type of Batteries Do Electric Cars Use?

There have been many advancements in battery technology over the past 40 years. With the push towards more sustainable energy, we’ve come a long way from the lead-acid batteries of the past. Let’s look at the two most common types of batteries used in electric vehicles today.

Lithium-ion Batteries

Most new electric cars feature lithium-ion batteries. There are 6 main chemistry types of lithium and cars tend to use the most energy-dense. This is usually Lithium Cobalt Oxide (LCO) or Lithium Nickle Cobalt Oxide (NCA).

When it comes to cell housing, there are three different types: cylindrical, prismatic, and pouch-type batteries. You’ll find all three in EVs today, and each one has its pros and cons.

For example, Tesla chooses to use cylindrical batteries because of their reliability and durability. Their battery packs contain hundreds of lithium-ion cells stored under the car’s interior carriage. In fact, there are 2,976 lithium-ion battery cells in a Tesla. These lithium-ion battery cells are the highest energy-density battery in the world. Nevertheless, they’re cumbersome compared to other types.

Tesla uses thousands of cells
Tesla uses thousands of cells

Like cylindrical batteries, prismatic batteries feature a solid casing; however, prismatic batteries are generally lighter and can fit well in small spaces due to their rectangular shape. Because of this, Volkswagen has recently made the switch to prismatic batteries. That said, prismatic batteries usually have a shorter life cycle than cylindrical batteries.

Pouch-type batteries differ because they’re in thin, metal bags, making them more flexible than prismatic and cylindrical batteries. Because of this, they’re fantastic for small, oddly shaped spaces, but they can be vulnerable to swelling and pose a potential fire risk. GM and Hyundai both use pouch-type batteries.

Batteries for electric cars are quite diverse
Batteries for electric cars are quite diverse

Nickel-Metal Hybrid Batteries

Created in 1987, nickel-metal hybrid batteries paved the way for hybrid vehicles. This happened with the invention of a new cathode material made of lanthanum, nickel, cobalt, and silicone. The new formula helped the cell retain 84% of its charge capacity, even after 4,000 charge/recharge cycles.

Later, more advances in the battery’s chemistry helped the nickel-metal hybrid batteries retain much more energy density than lead-acid batteries.

Now, you’ll find nickel-metal hybrid batteries primarily in hybrid cars. They’re popular because of their high energy output and safety. Plus, like lithium, the battery’s state of charge doesn’t affect its output as much as lead-acid.

Nevertheless, nickel-metal hybrid batteries are expensive. They also have high self-discharge rates and higher cooling requirements. You’ll find this type of electric vehicle battery in the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, and Civic Hybrid.

Nickel-Metal Hybrid Batteries 
Nickel-Metal Hybrid Batteries

What Is the Capacity of an Electric Car Battery?

As you might have guessed, the energy capacity of an electric car battery depends on many factors, including the types of batteries used and the car itself. Battery capacity measures in kilowatt-hours (kWh), and the higher they are, the more miles the car can go without recharging.

Thus, the capacity of an electric car battery ranges anywhere from 40 kWh to 200 kWh. To put this into perspective, the Tesla Model S and X has a 100 kWh battery and can go 300 miles between charges, while a Nissan Leaf has a 40 kWh battery and can go 149 miles between charges.

Maximum capacity of electric car battery
Maximum capacity of electric car battery

How Long Does an Electric Car Battery Last?

Many people considering purchasing one of these economically-friendly vehicles, you’re probably wondering how long the battery will last. After all, the car is only as good as the batteries that power it.

While the high-energy car batteries don’t last as long as chemistries like Lithium Iron Phosphate, a general rule is that lithium-ion batteries in cars will last for about 200,000 miles or approximately 17 years–pretty good for a car battery.

A lot of battery life depends on how the battery was treated, what its charge and discharge cycles look like, and the temperatures it operated in. Many cars make use of advanced battery management systems and even heating and cooling systems to keep the batteries operating as optimally as possible to extend their life.

How Are EV Batteries Disposed Of?

So, if electric vehicle batteries eventually bite the dust, where do they all end up? In a perfect world, manufacturers would recycle them and make new batteries. This involves first shredding the batteries at dedicated facilities and then breaking them down with heat or chemicals and extracting the valuable materials.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and only a small percentage of lithium-ion batteries get recycled. The main issue? Labor and shipping logistics. In fact, shipping these lithium-ion batteries involves more labor and resources than it takes to extract new materials. Therein lies the main problem: a lack of profitability. This, however, is being worked on right now and will be solved as lithium batteries become the primary power source for our vehicles.

EV battery handling process
EV battery handling process

Is There Any New Technology in EV Batteries?

Advancements in EV batteries have been ramping up, and they may solve the recycling problem, too.

New improvements are always being made from energy density and production costs to safety. The ultimate goals are to get batteries to hold as much energy as possible for as long as possible as safely as possible.

Electric Car Batteries Continue to Improve

Advancements in batteries have come a long way, and we’ve finally reached a point where EVs are affordable and reliable. Lithium-ion batteries dominate this space and will most likely continue to be the primary battery choice for many years to come.

Electric car battery technology is increasingly developing
Electric car battery technology is increasingly developing

Every battery has its pros and cons, and recent developments and propositions in electric vehicle battery technology might solve many problems in the EV industry.

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