Lighter Batteries May Prove The Tipping Point For Electric Vehicles

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Originally posted on CleanTechnica

For battery electric vehicles (BEV) to overcome the built-in advantages of vehicles rocking conventional internal combustion engines (ICE), many analysts point to battery costs as being the determining factor. But an article written for Seeking Alpha> emphasizes that there may be another tipping point in the BEV vs. ICE battle, and that’s the weight of the batteries themselves.

To be sure, the main goal of the Tesla Gigafactory is to bring battery costs down by some 30%, allowing the Tesla Model III to offer a 200-mile driving range for just $35,000. Elon Musk has again and again targeted the BMW 3-Series as the Model III’s main competitor, and with a curb weight of just over 3,400 pounds, the Bimmer represents an excellent “goal” weight for the average family sedan. The Tesla Model S, with its 4,600 pound curb weight, is a much heavier car in comparison, with about 1,600 of those pounds dedicated to the battery alone. In order to bring the batteries weight down, Tesla must bring the watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg) up, and it will do that with new battery cell technology.

Currently, Tesla uses thousands of individual Panasonic 18650 laptop battery cells in its battery packs, which cost an estimated $250/kwh and offer an estimated energy density of 233 Wh/kg. Once Gigafactory production begins though, Tesla will be upgrading to new 20700 battery cells, which will be physically larger, capable of holding more energy, and thus requiring fewer individual modules. As battery chemistries and energy densities improve, BEVs could actually end up weighing substantially less than traditional ICE-powered vehicles.

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According to the above chart, once battery pack density hits about 333 Wh/kg, the Tesla Model III could be on par, weight-wise, with the BMW 3-Series…ans as the batteries grow even more energy-dense? Electric cars could actually undercut the weight of conventional vehicles…though that assumes conventional vehicles don’t utilize their own weight-saving measures (which they almost certainly will).

Obviously there’s a lot that still needs to happen for electric cars to even be on par with their conventional counterparts, but it’s certainly doable as batteries continue to come down in weight and cost. The BMW i3 manages more than 80 miles of driving per charge, but weighs in at just over 2,800 to 3,000 pounds thanks to its expensive-but-lightweight carbon fiber body. Now imagine if its 20 kWh battery pack was 50% lighter, and suddenly you’ve got an electric vehicle that weighs no more than the 2016 Mazda Miata.

And should Tesla hit its goal of batteries that cost just $100/kWh? It’ll be even cheaper than the Miata too.

Images: Seeking Alpha

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.