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The fear of autonomy for electric cars may soon end

The alleged short distances prevent many people from buying an electric car. New battery technologies show that 1,000 kilometers are no longer wishful thinking.

New battery technologies are increasingly finding their way into the daily lives of electric car drivers.
Getty Images / Matt Cardy

Two things people worry about when they switch from a combustion engine to an electric car: the price of the vehicle and the range. On average, Germans travel a distance of around 30 kilometers per day. Accordingly, each electric car currently available should be plugged in at most once a week. You don’t even need to always charge the battery to 100 percent. 80 percent is enough, especially since many vehicles can charge 30 to 80 percent in less than half an hour. This can be done easily during the weekly shop.

However, many people are plagued with the fear of getting stuck in their electric car or having to interrupt a longer journey for hours because the battery needs to be recharged. Car manufacturers are cleverly using fears as a strength. They advertise their vehicles with a particularly wide reach. The e-car pioneer Tesla, for example, never tires of pointing out that its long-range models are still superior to all other e-cars.

However, the competition between manufacturers in terms of range leads to a dilemma. Larger batteries can only be installed in larger cars, but customers are asking for smaller mid-range models around $ 30,000. Furthermore, the batteries are still very expensive. The more watts you squeeze into a battery, the higher the price. Furthermore, customers are price sensitive: they are already deciding against a model if it costs 1,000 euros more than the competition.

1,200 kilometers on a single charge

Now what is the solution to this problem? The answer is in the battery packs of the vehicles themselves, more precisely: in the chemistry of the cells. This is where startups come into play. The automotive industry does not yet have the skills to build batteries. Many manufacturers have outsourced this work to specialized manufacturing companies, but their search is slow and has not produced the desired results. Car manufacturers, now short of time, are increasingly looking around the startup market and have found what they were looking for.

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Example Our next energy: The US startup is currently one of the companies that is attracting a lot of attention. Developers from the battery maker installed their batteries in a Tesla last year and achieved a range of 1,210 kilometers with the new energy storage system. According to the company, this was achieved by doubling the energy density in the batteries compared to the original battery.

The startup’s obviously secret technology impressed BMW so much that the Bavarians bought the startup in 2020. One Next Energy received $ 20 million, including from BMWi Ventures, the automaker’s equity arm. The first result of the investment is a battery for the BMW iX in-house SUV electric vehicle, the range of which will increase from the original 640 kilometers to 965 kilometers.

Better than Tesla?

There are also startups in Europe that want to expand the range of electric cars. Innolith from Switzerland, for example, also takes care of the energy density of cells. The company claims it achieved up to 1,000 watt-hours per kilo in the test. For comparison: the energy density of a Tesla battery is currently around 250 watt hours per kilo. If these energy densities can also be achieved in mass production? The Swiss company is currently on hold. After all, there are already batteries with 300 watt hours in the range. This would increase a Tesla’s range from 630 to around 750 kilometers.

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US startup SolidEnergy Systems, or SES for short, is taking a different technology approach. It is based on a solid-state battery, where energy is conducted through a solid conductive material rather than through a liquid. According to the company, the energy storage system developed by SES is expected to deliver 500 watt-hours per kilo, which would double the range of a Tesla. The company, valued at $ 3.6 billion last year after an IPO, has yet to demonstrate its technology’s performance in normal operations.

However, the examples show that the auto industry alone will no longer guarantee the next big technological leap. It is the startups that develop new batteries, design the electric car and ensure that the infamous fear of autonomy soon becomes a thing of the past. Traveling 1,000 kilometers in an electric car without stopping to recharge – it will soon become reality.

Don Dahlmann has been a journalist for over 25 years and has been in the automotive industry for over ten years. Every Monday you can read his “Torque” column here, which takes a critical look at the mobility sector.

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