Electric vehicle battery technology – where are we now?

Electric vehicle battery technology – where are we now?

Although the concept of electric vehicles is not a new one, our understanding of the technology surrounding them and what makes for better, more sustainable, safer and higher performing vehicles is evolving all the time. Obviously, a key component of an electric vehicle (EV) is its battery – this is quite literally what powers the car – so constant development in this area is key in making EVs suitable for the mass market.

Here’s a quick look at where we currently are with electric vehicle battery technology – and where we ideally need to be.

 

Materials

Currently, the leading battery type in electric vehicles is lithium-ion. Early EVs ran on lead-acid batteries due to their high availability and low cost, but as they require frequent maintenance and have a short lifecycle, they are not sustainable as an option if EVs are going to tackle the mass market. In addition, in order to make a lead-acid battery-powered EV comparable with the range and performance of an ICE vehicle, the battery would have to take up 25-50% of the vehicle.

Lithium-ion batteries were originally developed for use in consumer electronics such as laptops. They combine high energy density with a relatively long life cycle, and are relatively low profile compared to the alternatives. There have been previous challenges with li-ion batteries surrounding their response to high temperatures, and the risk of thermal runaway – but more recently, EV battery manufacturers have been working with variations on li-ion such as phosphates, titanates and spinels, that sacrifice specific power (Wh/kg) and specific energy (W/kg) in favour of providing more sustainable features – fire resistance, ecological efficiency, rapid charging and longer lifespans.

 

Environmental impact

Despite the impetus behind the move to electric vehicles being the environmental gains, there is still some concern around the products and byproducts of their manufacture and the impact of those. In 10-15 years, with increased numbers of EVs on the roads, many EV batteries will be coming to the end of their useful lifecycle and will be ready to be replaced. This means that the old li-ion battery will need to be disposed over. Currently, it’s estimated that just 5% of li-ion batteries are recycled – and in some countries, it’s even less. Much of the substance that’s recovered when recycling a battery is what’s known as black mass – a mixture of lithium, manganese, cobalt and nickel – that needs energy-intensive processing to become usable again. It’s vital that manufacturers and the industry, in general, consider how to improve the recyclability of li-ion batteries.

 

Extending the useful lifecycle of EV batteries

Though li-ion EV batteries tend to have longer lifecycles when compared with alternatives, the lifecycle is still a challenge. EV batteries are reportedly designed to last for around 1500-2000 discharge cycles. Depending on the usage of the vehicle, this could represent anything from 10 to 20 years. Rapid charging, while a convenient concept during day-to-day use, can affect the overall lifecycle and the range that you get from the vehicle over time.

For that reason, it’s important to consider ways in which we can extend the useful life of EV batteries so that things like rapid charging can still be used without having long term effects.

Compression pads can be used to apply physical pressure on the battery pack whilst maintaining thermal and electrical connections, allowing for tolerance and expansion during charging and discharging, or when exposed to external factors such as high temperatures.

 

Elmelin EV battery solutions

We’re working closely with manufacturers in the battery and automotive markets to develop solutions that will help to improve the lifecycle, efficiency and performance of EV batteries. If you’d like to find out more, get in touch.

 

We will also be exhibiting at the Cenex-LCV 2021 event, 22nd-23rd September, at Millbrook Proving Ground – showcasing our latest innovations in insulation for automotive and battery technology. Find out more here.

 

 

Carbon neutral vs net-zero – what’s the difference?

Carbon neutral vs net-zero – what’s the difference?

Especially when dealt with on a global scale, differences in terminology and semantics can cause confusion and misinterpretation – so it’s best to assess what each term means and how they are applied in initiatives to reach a common goal – combating climate change and protecting the future of our planet. 

 

Carbon neutral vs net-zero – what’s the difference?

Fundamentally, there is no difference between the two terms. Carbon neutrality is the act of achieving net-zero emissions. Net-zero may have become a more popular term on a geopolitical scale as it represents more of a “quantitative” target. Some countries have misinterpreted carbon neutrality to mean stabilising carbon emissions at a certain “accepted” level, rather than offsetting them completely. 

So, whatever you want to call it, let’s dig a little deeper into what achieving net-zero  actually means.

 

What is “net-zero”?

Net zero, in its broadest sense, means that you are offsetting your carbon emissions and capturing enough carbon from the atmosphere to keep the total carbon footprint at zero. This is achieved by 1) reducing emissions and 2) carbon offsetting. Reducing emissions to zero is a little unrealistic (this would be “gross zero”) – so efforts to reduce emissions must be supported by efforts to remove CO2 from the atmosphere to make up for emissions elsewhere. This is where the “offsetting” comes in. 

Generally speaking, we use “net zero” to refer to what is actually “net zero carbon” – meaning that for every ton of anthropogenic emissions (carbon emissions caused or influenced by humans), the equivalent amount of CO2 must be removed from the atmosphere. Net-zero GHG refers to the balancing of all greenhouse gas emissions, taking into account all other anthropogenic emissions which are harmful to the environment in abundance such as methane and nitrous oxide. This is also referred to as “climate neutral”. 

That being said, the focus tends to be on carbon dioxide, as it accounts for the large majority of  anthropogenic emissions. 

 

What net zero means for us

In 2019, the UK government was the first major economy to pass into law the target of net zero emissions by 2050. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) advises this step in order to keep the UK on track with commitments made as part of the Paris Agreement in 2016, to keep global warming under 2 degrees. What this means in practice is a little unclear – it imposes a legal obligation on the government to reach this target, but how it will be enforced is still largely unknown. Currently, the UK is not on track to meet its previous target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050 – so drastic measures and vital work needs to be undertaken to push us towards that goal. 

The four highest emitting sectors, being transportation, energy supply, business and residential, will be the focus of initiatives and additional legislation being brought in to curb emissions. 

 

Our commitment

At Elmelin, we recognise that beyond semantics and politics, climate change is a pressing global issue that needs to be addressed through the collective efforts of entire industries. We’re working closely with our clients to develop solutions that will help them create products to aid the net zero initiative. If you’d like to find out more, get in touch

 

Thermal runaway reaction – can it be prevented?

Thermal runaway reaction – can it be prevented?

As more industries and applications turn to battery technology in order to create sustainable energy solutions, ongoing research and development into making them safer is vital. 

A significant risk to safety which is present particularly in high energy density batteries is thermal runaway. Thermal runaway can cause an unstoppable reaction that leads to incredibly high temperatures and fire which can be difficult if not impossible to extinguish by conventional methods.

So, the ongoing challenge and question is – can thermal runaway be prevented?

The pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cells

The pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cells

Despite a 5.8% drop in global carbon emissions in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, emissions are still at critical levels. Global CO2 emissions were 31.5Gt – an increase of 54% since 1990.

With that in mind, the quest to find a viable alternative to carbon-based fuel and energy production processes is continually accelerating. From passenger vehicles to domestic energy, those at the forefront of alternative fuel and energy storage technology are exploring options.

One of these options is hydrogen fuel cells – an efficient energy source with low emissions. In this article, we’re looking at the pros and cons of the widespread use of hydrogen fuel cells.

 

Pro: Low emissions and higher efficiency

Hydrogen fuel cells work by combining hydrogen and oxygen to produce electrical energy. The only emissions that result from this process are water (H20) and hot air – meaning that no harmful gases are released into the atmosphere, in contrast to the 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide a typical passenger vehicle emits each year. In addition, hydrogen fuel is more efficient – internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles convert fuel into kinetic energy at 25% efficiency. Hydrogen fuel cells do so at 60% efficiency.

 

Pro: Relatively low barrier to entry

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) have low barriers to entry in terms of societal change.

They operate and perform very similarly to the conventional ICE vehicles we are used to, allowing you to refuel at a station within minutes, as opposed to having to wait for an electric vehicle (EV) to charge. An electric vehicle typically has a range of around 230 miles, whereas FCEVs can reach 310-370 miles range without having to be refuelled. In addition, an EV can take up to 8 hours to charge from empty to full – it takes roughly 5 minutes to refuel a hydrogen tank.

 

Potential challenge: Storage

High-density hydrogen storage is a challenge for both portable and stationary applications. The storage solutions we have available currently typically require the storage of large volumes of hydrogen in gaseous form. To reach the performance and efficiency goals for light-duty FCEVs, large-volume, high-pressure compressed gas tanks would need to be used, which can have a significant footprint.

 

Pro: Effective in stationary and heavy-duty applications

While this is a challenge for “light-duty” FCEVs, it is less so for larger, heavy-duty vehicles and stationary applications, where the footprint of the gas tank is less of an issue. Bulkier vehicles that need to travel long distances, carry heavy loads and refuel with minimal downtime are good candidates. For that reason, hydrogen fuel has been tested in vehicles such as trucks, boats, trains and planes.

In addition, hydrogen could also be used to replace the compressed natural gas used in some domestic applications. A study by Swansea University found that up to 30% of domestic gas could be safely replaced with hydrogen without requiring changes to boilers or ovens.

 

Con: Less efficient than batteries

When comparing hydrogen fuel cells to other potential alternatives to hydrocarbon power, the picture becomes slightly less positive. The viability of FCEVs is being threatened by the continued development of more cost-effective battery technology and lowering costs of electricity-based transport systems. EV and hybrid vehicles overall offer better efficiency than FCEVs. Electric batteries lose only 17% of their initial input of energy through inefficiencies when charging and discharging. The cycle used to create electrical energy within a hydrogen fuel cell wastes more than 50% of its energy efficiency.

 

Hydrogen fuel cells and insulation

Just like batteries, hydrogen fuel cells produce electrical energy, and present their own unique safety and efficiency challenges – so there needs to be careful consideration in how the cells are insulated.

We’re committing ourselves to help our customers contribute towards the net-zero initiative. We’re currently working on a number of projects and solutions which will help to increase the safety, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of alternative fuel. If you’d like to find out more about our solutions, get in touch.

3 key pieces of net zero legislation you should know about

3 key pieces of net zero legislation you should know about

Widespread change requires systemic change. Driving towards a net-zero society requires us to reexamine legislation and put in place sanctions and measures that will help to curb activities with severe environmental impact, and promote those with low impact.

Climate change has already been ramping up on the agendas of government bodies all over the world for the last decade or so – but with the problem becoming increasingly urgent, and a line in the sand of 2050 drawn for many countries to reach net-zero emissions, legislative changes are being proposed and being locked into the roadmap for the near future.

With that in mind, in this post, we’ll look at 3 key pieces of net zero-related legislation you need to be aware of.

Reducing carbon emissions from heavy industry

Reducing carbon emissions from heavy industry

Power and heavy industry sectors accounted for around 60% of annual emissions in 2019. Heavy industry describes sectors like steel, cement and petrochemical. The processes and fuels used in these sectors present significant and unique challenges when it comes to reducing emissions.

With the goal of net zero by 2050 fast-approaching, let’s take a look at some of the challenges of heavy industry and carbon emissions, and some of the ways they can be addressed. 

How the right insulation solves 3 challenges with battery storage

How the right insulation solves 3 challenges with battery storage

The drive towards promoting and utilising clean energy and the goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 will mean an increased reliance on battery storage. In a world where we’re not utilising fossil fuels for power, batteries will be vital in powering not just things like battery-operated electric vehicles (BEVs) but also off and on-grid storage.