Navigant Research Blog

Battery Makers Preparing for Post-Lithium Ion Era

— November 6, 2015

Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries, we hardly knew ye.

Today’s mass-marketed light duty plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) uniformly rely on batteries with Li-ion chemistries, but advancing the technology will hit an upper limit of performance by the end of the decade. Battery makers that spoke at the late October eCarTec conference in Munich stated that the energy density can be doubled while cutting the cell cost of PEV batteries in half by 2020, but that beyond that, battery makers will need to shift to other technologies.

Energy storage and automotive power electronics company Robert Bosch and automaker Renault both presented similar timelines for the beginning of the phaseout of Li-ion batteries. Li-ion cell prices will come down thanks to efficiencies in volume manufacturing at plants run by companies such as Tesla and LG Chem and reductions in the amounts of precious metals used. According to Navigant Research’s report Advanced Energy Storage for Automotive ApplicationsLi-ion pack prices (which include the battery management systems, cooling systems, electronic controls, and wiring) will continue to decline by 5%-6% annually through the remainder of the decade.

Once manufacturing and raw material costs have been optimized, other technologies such as lithium-air, lithium sulfur, and solid-state batteries will begin to take over as the technologies that will offer increased performance in PEVs, said Dr. Holger Fink, senior vice president of Engineering at Robert Bosch Battery Systems GmbH. Fink said that solid state battery technology is the most likely of the alternative battery technologies to be commercialized in the short term, with lithium sulfur unlikely to be commercially viable until closer to 2030.

Bosch is developing solid state battery technology based on the intellectual property it acquired when the company purchased startup battery company SEEO in September 2015. Fink said the solid-state batteries that Bosch are developing feature lithium metal anodes that have increased storage capacity and replaces a flammable liquid electrolyte with a safer dry polymer. One challenge for solid state batteries is the high minimal operating temperature of at least 80°C, which Fink said the company is focusing on in its research.

According to Navigant Research, and as seen in the chart below, by 2020, the global market for Li-ion batteries in automotive applications will reach $25 billion.

 Total Light Duty Consumer Vehicle Li-ion Battery Revenue by Powertrain Type, World Markets: 2015-2024

John Li-Ion Blog Chart(Source: Navigant Research)

Masato Origuchi, chief battery engineer for EV/HEV at Renault and another speaker at eCarTec, echoed Fink’s comments about the 5-year timeframe for Li-ion battery performance gains peaking. He said that improvements in energy density in Li-ion batteries will be able to provide 200 miles of driving range in battery electric vehicles (BEVs) such as the Nissan LEAF (a Renault-Nissan Alliance partner) by 2020. Origuchi said that further improvements in energy density via other technologies could extend the range of a BEV to 600 km (372 miles) or more.

Disruptive innovations in energy storage and many other automotive technologies often takes years longer than initially expected to gain market share over the incumbents due to higher prices and the cautious nature of automakers. As a result, the market share for Li-ion batteries can be expected to erode slowly, even after better performing technologies are first commercialized.


New EV Chargers Balance Solar, Home Power Demand

— October 30, 2015

Homeowners looking to minimize their carbon footprint and reduce their energy costs often buy plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) in tandem with solar panels. In most instances, any excess solar power produced is sent to the grid at a fixed price per kilowatt-hour or subtracted from the households’s overall power demand via net metering.

However, new residential chargers from electric vehicle (EV) charging equipment manufacturers Etrel and Circontrol have advanced load monitoring features that enable EV charging to automatically be timed with residential solar power production. Both companies exhibited their products at the recent eCarTec conference in Munich, Germany, which featured automotive companies, Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers, and EV charging hardware and software companies from across the globe.

Etrel, which hails from Slovenia, continues to impress me with its ability to stay at the forefront of EV charging management technology. When I first met with them nearly 2 years ago, the company had the most sophisticated backend EV software platform. Etrel’s residential Smartcharger is paired with a load monitoring device that senses the power draw from the rest of the home as well as any power being produced by a home solar array. Homeowners can program the Smartcharger to optimize charging for when solar power is being generated, or allow the power to be sold back to the grid if that would have greater economic benefit. The sensor detects the overall household power demand and varies the vehicle charging rate to ensure that the maximum amount of household power draw is never reached.

This feature seems obvious, yet it is only now arriving in residential EV chargers. Etrel’s Rok Kralj said the charger/power monitoring product will be available in 2016. He also said the company has sold several hundred units to date, split between residential and commercial chargers.

Similarly, Circontrol of Barcelona, Spain showcased its eHome residential charger, which also dynamically varies the vehicle charging rate depending on what is going on in the home. The company’s BeOn sensor, due out in January, is coupled with the eHome charger and monitors home energy consumption to make sure that the EV charging rate doesn’t add a load that would surpass the recommended safe level. And as with Etrel’s product, the sensor detects when solar power is being produced and will time EV charging based on customer’s programmed preferences.

Both Circontrol and Etrel include mobile and web applications that let consumers see how much power is being used and generated and also allow them to schedule EV charging. Circontrol offers both commercial alternating current and fast direct current chargers.

Some utilities are similarly experimenting with timing EV charging power output to the level of solar being produced in the area so that customers can similarly boast about driving on 100% renewable power. While this is a premium feature today, power producers can prevent excess wind or solar production from being wasted by aggregating EV charging loads.

Despite operating in a smaller EV market than North America, European EV charging companies including Circontrol and Etrel continue to innovate in the charging market through intelligent hardware and software platforms. It would benefit EV owners if global competitors kept pace with these load balancing features.


Liquefied Natural Gas Gains Trucker Appeal

— September 9, 2015

Change_webLiquefied natural gas (LNG) has had the advantage of being a cleaner, less expensive fuel, but its limited availability and longer payback period for equipment has hindered its use in medium and heavy duty vehicles.

Due to its increasing supply, the cost of natural gas fuel has dropped by 50% since 2008. This, in addition to recent changes in the IRS code, has further increased the value proposition for natural gas as a transportation fuel. Natural gas proponents have long complained about the inequity of how the tax code has treated LNG, which was taxed by volume rather than by its energy value. Because a gallon of LNG has 42% less energy by volume than diesel, the effective tax rate was much higher, which put the retail price of the fuels closer together.

Good News for LNG Fleets

On July 31, President Barack Obama signed into law H.R. 3236, a transportation bill that changed the tax code to tax both LNG and propane at the same rate per diesel gallon equivalent, according to NGTNews. For LNG, the tax drops by 41%, which will increase the monthly savings for fleet operators when switching from diesel.

Even before the tax change, Navigant Research anticipated that the number of LNG refueling stations in the United States is likely to nearly double by 2020 to more than 210, according to the recently published report, Natural Gas Vehicle Refueling Infrastructure. With the lower cost of the LNG fuel, more fleets will consider installing refueling stations and converting their trucks.

The supply of LNG in North America will continue to flow sufficiently. According to Victoria News, the government of Quebec approved the building of an LNG plant in Becancour. Similarly, the Goldboro LNG terminal in Halifax, Nova Scotia received government approval to start exporting LNG. According to CTV, it is expected to receive natural gas via pipeline from the United States.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy reversed its policy to allow LNG to be exported, which has excited interest in supplying and liquefying the fuel. Several LNG export terminals are being either reopened or opened in the United States, including in Port Arthur, Texas and in Cameron Parish, Louisiana. Feeding both domestic and foreign markets with LNG is unlikely to be a problem due to the extensive shale deposits in North America and the increased use of hydraulic fracturing.


Autonomous E-Bikes May Grow Ranks of Cycling Commuters

— September 3, 2015

Bikes_webBicycling safety seems to be gradually improving, as the number of people cycling to work in the United States is growing significantly while fatalities have remained relatively unchanged.

According to the latest American Community Survey executed by the Census Bureau, the number of workers who cycle to work grew from 488,000 in 2000 to about 786,000 in the years 2008–2012, for a 60.8% increase. Cycling as the primary means of transportation grew to 0.6%, while travel by private motor vehicle remained dominant at 86%.

Unsurprisingly, bicycling to work is most popular in larger cities, with Portland, Oregon retaining its spot at the top in the United States with 6.1% of all commutes done by bike. The United States trails bicycle commuting in Europe, where cities such as Hamburg are pushing to have 25% of all city trips completed by bike. The survey also found that men bike to work (0.8%) at more than twice the rate of women (0.3%).

Biking blog graphic

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), cycling deaths in crashes with motorized vehicles have been increasing over the past few years but haven’t kept pace with the increase in commuting. Approximately 743 cyclist fatalities occurred in 2013, which is up 1% from the year prior and is disappointing for safety advocates. Many cities are addressing safety by adding bike lanes and increasing outreach to drivers.

Electric Bicycles Keeping Pace

Electric bicycles (e-bikes) are expected to be part of the continued growth of cycling commuting trips. According to Navigant Research’s Electric Bicycles report, annual e-bike sales will grow by 76% between 2014 and 2023 to nearly 270,000 units in the United States. E-bikes can extend two-wheeled urban commuting beyond the current average of 19.3 minutes, as they can take over for weary legs on hills and aid cyclists to arrive more quickly than via pedal power alone.

An e-bike that could increase safety was premiered at August’s Eurobike conference by startup company coModule, as reported by Electrive. The Estonian company modified a Veleon electric cargo bike with autonomous driving features that can be remotely controlled via a mobile phone app. In addition to increasing the ability of cyclists to anticipate dangerous situations, the three-wheeled bikes could be used someday to deliver medical supplies to remote areas without the need for a driver.


Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date


Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Finance & Investing, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Energy Program, Smart Transportation Practice, Smart Transportation Program, Utility Innovations

By Author

{"userID":"","pageName":"John Gartner","path":"\/author\/john-gartner","date":"11\/29\/2015"}