The urgent need to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions is encouraging the automotive industry to take a cold, hard look at itself and transform itself from the innermost depths outward. Take EVs, for example, which have emerged as a powerful solution to address environmental challenges associated with internal combustion engines.
Central to the success of EVs are their battery systems. Predominantly made up of lithium-ion batteries, several challenges are brought up when it comes to bringing EV batteries to market, driving research into better alternatives which boast enhanced performance, safety and sustainability.
The race for better-performing and more environmentally conscious EV batteries has been likened to era-defining events such as the next gold rush. So, it’s safe to say, there are exciting things to come. But that won’t be without obstacles cropping up along the way.
Problems with lithium-ion batteries
“Under certain conditions, lithium-ion batteries are known to enter a condition called thermal runaway, a self-sustaining chain reaction of heat generation within the battery that leads to an escalation in temperature and gas production,” Mukesh Chatter, CEO and Co-Founder of Alsym Energy explained. Alsym Energy has developed a low-cost, non-flammable, high-performance rechargeable battery chemistry that’s ideal for the likes of EVs without using lithium or cobalt. “Factors such as overcharging, over-discharging, physical damage, or manufacturing defects can trigger this dangerous phenomenon. In extreme cases, thermal runaway can lead to fires or explosions.”
He continued: “An additional environmental concern with lithium-ion batteries is the leakage of harmful fluids that contain hexafluorophosphates and metals such as cobalt. With batteries crowding landfills, there is a constant flow of these fluids seeping into the ground, resulting in soil and water contamination.”
Is change coming for EV batteries?
As stated in MIT Technology Review’s What’s Next series, new battery chemistries for EVs are on the horizon and a manufacturing boost is happening thanks to government funding in the US and across other geographies.
This comes as EVs passed 10% of global vehicle sales in 2022, with this figure set to hit 30% by the end of this decade.
And thanks to policies in the US, where billions of dollars are being pumped into battery manufacturing and incentives for EV purchases or bans passed on patrol or diesel-powered vehicles starting in 2035 in some US states and across the EU, the ties of change are happening.
“Concerns about supplies of key battery materials like cobalt and lithium are pushing a search for alternatives to the standard lithium-ion chemistry,” MIT Technology Review’s report outlines, signaling a new hope thanks to investments and policy fuelling demand for EVs and their batteries.
Although changes need to happen, and fast, there are several challenges that stand in the way of shifting toward alternative battery chemistries. These include building trust in new chemistries and making alternatives more scalable, getting funding for in-depth research and finding ample resources to encourage this.
For example Castrol — an oil company that markets industrial and automotive lubricants which this year is celebrating its 125th anniversary — continues its pursuit of the cutting edge of innovation by investing further in its global technology hubs in China, Germany, and the Americas. It has also planned a US$60 million investment in a new, state-of-the-art EV battery testing centre and analytical laboratory in the UK.
It has already released a range of advanced Castrol ON EV Fluids as the growing market for electric vehicles will grow, but also co-exist with internal combustion engine (ICE) and hybrids. With this in mind, the brand aims to help ICE and hybrid vehicles be more efficient, while aiming to lead the way in EV Fluids.
“We’re developing more circular offers to help customers achieve their sustainability goals and exploring exciting new growth opportunities beyond lubricants,” Castrol’s CEO Michelle Jou said.
Shifting the focus back to batteries, Chatter added: “There is already an abundance of research on alternative battery chemistries. “The landscape is dynamic, yet the transition from research labs to widespread production is a gradual process requiring significant investment and time. With ongoing research and prototypes on the way, new batteries that can power EVs are not far from commercialisation. Cutting-edge technology and state-of-the-art methods are being used to constantly improve alternative battery chemistries so that they will soon be ready to become the standard at a time when they’re needed most.”
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