One of the interesting aspects of any market segment gaining in size is that it forces many manufacturers and researchers to find new and faster ways to do things. Every market is the same and the electric car market is going through a period where manufacturers are working with researchers to find ways to get their products to market with a longer range or faster charging capabilities.
Honda, Mitsubishi and the Indian manufacturer Hriman Motors are now using a new type of battery: Lithium-Titanate. This is a battery that has evolved from the current Lithium-ion battery structure. In essence what the boffins did was to replace the carbon in the battery anode with nano-crystals of lithium-titanate. In its raw state this material is a cream coloured powder and has been used in porcelain enamels and ceramic insulating materials. Now it has been crystallised for use in a battery.
It is a better material than carbon because it has a much bigger surface area which means that it can be used to recharge a battery much quicker than a Li-ion battery. For example, carbon has a 3 square meter surface per gram whilst lithium-titanate has a 100 sqm surface per gram – that is quite difficult to visualise! The benefits of this is that the greater the surface, the faster the energy can flow into or out of the battery, resulting in more power delivery and a much faster charging cycle.
There is also a claim that they can take more charge cycles than a Li-ion battery although there are reports that contradict this. They do however have a lower voltage and therefore lower energy than other batteries and in some respects that could make them safer than other battery systems for electric cars because the lower the energy, the lower the heat that will be generated. Heat is the biggest concern for many owners of electric cars and other devices and we have all seen the reports of early Tesla’s burning as well as many hand-held devices that are over-clocked and get too hot.
There are several manufacturers such as Toshiba, Altairnano and Microvast that supply these batteries to the major car and bus manufacturers – who are gaining faster traction than the car makers! Most Governments want eco-friendly public transportation systems so electric buses are replacing diesel powered ones and this is where another feature of the battery comes in to play – it can operate down to -40C! Perfect for the northern hemisphere winter. Due to their size and power output, many electric scooters are now also adopting this type of battery too, so they can cover all sizes of transportation.
Expect to see more vehicles come to market with this type of battery structure in the next few years, especially as more electric car models will be released, thus pushing the envelope for faster charging and longer ranges.