Battery R&D seeks to amp up electric vehicles

March 30, 2011 // By George Leopold
President Obama earlier this year called for 1 million electric vehicles to be on U.S. roads by 2015. Events currently unfolding in the oil-rich but Democracy-strapped Middle East could well hasten their arrival. Estimates for the global EV market see some 50 million vehicles hitting the road over the next decade.

For now, R&D is focusing on key components of the infrastructure needed to get consumers behind the wheel of electric cars like the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf. Battery and power electronics development is gaining momentum, experts say, as is deployment of the recharging infrastructure needed to power EVs.

The primary focus of battery research is on increasing energy density to boost the range of next-generation vehicles while reducing the price of lithium-ion and other battery types. Cost estimates for the Li-ion batteries currently used in most vehicles, for instance, run as high as $1,000 per kilowatt-hour; the U.S. Energy Department’s goal is to reduce battery prices to $250/kWh.

Early EV adoption by U.S. consumers has been relatively slow. But companies with large vehicle fleets, such as Federal Express, have been aggressively switching to all-electric vehicles with a range of about 100 miles.