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2 million kilometres is the new record for the lifetime of electric car batteries.

CATL, China’s leading lithium-ion battery specialist and manufacturer, supplier to major car manufacturers including TESLA, announces that it is ready to manufacture batteries with a life span of 16 years or 2 million kilometres.

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The electric vehicle market is growing

Electric cars had their biggest year in 2019. By the end of the year, 2.5% of all cars worldwide were electric. This is a small percentage, but it represents significant growth for the electric vehicle industry.

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Before electric cars become more widely available, there are still some technological hurdles to overcome, including the distance drivers can travel before having to recharge the car battery, and the life of the battery itself. Currently, the range varies from around 160 km to over 320 km for recent models, and most warranties end after 240,000 km or 8 years.

A welcome announcement.

These latest figures are set to rise sharply following this week’s announcement by the Chinese company Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (CATL) THIS WEEK. The company says it has a new battery technology that can last up to 2 million kilometers and 16 years, and is ready to manufacture batteries on demand. CATL is the world’s largest manufacturer of batteries for electric vehicles, and currently supplies them to a multitude of automakers, including Tesla, BMW, Toyota, Honda and Volkswagen.

Although car sales have fallen this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, CATL and its customers expect a surge in demand in 2021, once market uncertainty has subsided and consumers feel more comfortable making large purchases. “The pandemic could have a lasting effect throughout 2020, but will not be a major factor next year,” said CATL President Zeng Yuqun. “We have great confidence for the long term”.

50 times around the world.

The Earth’s circumference at the equator is about 40,075 km; this means that a 2 million kilometre battery could power a car for 50 trips around the world before it died. That’s a lot of mileage.

Since there is no car whose other components can be as durable, CATL has already put forward the idea that its new batteries could be used successively on several cars. CATL has not revealed details about the technology of extra-long-lasting batteries, but it is likely to involve some of the measures described last year by a research team at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Longer overall life expectancy.

The Dalhousie University research team was led by Jeff Dahn, a physicist and professor who partnered with Tesla to help the company advance its battery research. In an article published in September in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society, the authors described a battery that Dahn said “should be able to power an electric vehicle for more than a million kilometres and last at least two decades of stored energy on the grid.

The battery uses lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt oxide (NMC) for its cathode (positively charged electrode) and artificial graphite for its anode (negatively charged electrode). The cathodes of existing batteries use small crystals of NMC, but NMC uses larger crystals, resulting in a structure that, according to one researcher, is less likely to crack while the battery is being charged; this is one of the main improvements contributing to longer overall life.

More new modifications.

The other was a change in the material that carries ions between the battery cathode and its anode. Like its predecessors, the new battery uses a lithium salt with additives, and the Dalhousie research team spent a lot of research and time optimizing the mixture of ingredients.

The team openly shared the details of their work so that other researchers and companies could recreate the technology, saying they wanted it to serve as a benchmark in the field. In December of last year, however, Tesla patented a new lithium-ion battery technology, and Dahn was one of its inventors. So it is possible that the CATL battery has a cathode made of large NMC crystals, but uses a different electrolyte/additive mixture.

Elon Musk should be able to keep his promise.

Whatever the company’s formula is, it seems that it will be critical to making Elon Musk’s vision of a 1.6 million kilometre battery a reality, and the sooner the better. CATL will supply batteries for the Tesla Model 3 manufactured at the Gigafactory near Shanghai. Near Tesla’s first European Gigafactory, which is being built on the outskirts of Berlin, CATL is building a factory in Erfurt, Germany, which is expected to begin manufacturing batteries in 2021.

Last year, BloombergNEF predicted that electric cars would be cheaper than gasoline-powered cars by 2022, largely due to lower battery costs. Although the coronavirus pandemic has put a stop to manufacturing (and to predictions of all kinds), CATL’s million-kilometre battery indicates that progress continues.

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