Battery breakthrough may be electric car game changer

Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid car at the 2012 North American International Auto Show January 10, 2012 in Detroit, Mich. Now, a new battery breakthrough could greatly increase the range and decrease the price of electric cars.

A battery pack for the Chevy Volt awaits installation into the vehicle on the assembly line in Detroit, Mich. Soon, this kind of battery could be replaced.

Kai Ryssdal: Almost got run over by an electric car the other day while I was out running. My fault, totally -- it was dark; it was early; I wasn't really paying attention. But I will say: that car was really quiet. There was -- as it happens -- a big breakthrough in the world of electric cars this week. A Silicon Valley start-up says it's got a new battery that could greatly increase the range and decrease the price of cars that don't make any noise.

From the Marketplace Sustainability desk, Sarah Gardner reports.


Sarah Gardner: Envia Systems has been working for four years on the Holy Grail for electric cars:  a cheaper battery that goes a couple hundred miles or more on a single charge,  rather than the 80 or so of today’s Nissan Leaf.   Envia believes it’s getting close.   CEO Atul Kapadia.

Atul Kapadia: What we want to do is we want to minimize the cost of this material sufficiently that a 200-mile car costs no more than $25,000 and a 300-mile car costs no more than $35,000.

Still not cheap,  but getting there, says auto analyst Michelle Krebs.

Michelle Krebs: This could be a game changer.

Key word there is could, says electric car expert Jay Tankersley at Rocky Mountain Institute.

Jay Tankersley: It’s one thing to produce a highly efficient, highly cost-effective battery in the lab but to actually make something that can actually be put into a GM or be put into a Nissan Leaf, that is a totally different game.

Tankersley says that’s because batteries need to be tested thousands of times over,  under different conditions.  And scaling-up to mass production is always fraught with unexpected problems.  But Envia CEO Kapadia insists he’s not trying to hype anything here. He says he just wants automakers to know one thing:  electric car batteries are getting better.

Kapadia: They begin to realize that indeed they can make money on these electric cars.  And if they can make money on these electric cars they’ll continue to pump more money into these programs and promote those vehicles.  

Kapadia may hope that General Motors, in particular, gets that message.  Right now GM is Envia’s biggest investor.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace. 

 

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk covering sustainability news spots and features.

A battery pack for the Chevy Volt awaits installation into the vehicle on the assembly line in Detroit, Mich. Soon, this kind of battery could be replaced.

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