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One Step Closer to Game-Changing Electric Vehicle Batteries

Envia Systems’ breakthrough battery is one step closer to commercialization after a public vote of confidence last week from the CEO of General Motors (GM), Dan Akerson. ITIF has previously blogged about the battery, which performed at an energy density of 378-418 watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg) in independent tests. In contrast, conventional electric vehicle batteries possess substantially lower densities – the battery of the high-end Tesla roadster, for example, has an energy density of 121 Wh/kg, while the Nissan Leaf’s is 79 Wh/kg. GM is conducting further tests on the battery, but its CEO expressed hope that it could be installed in an electric vehicle in just two to four years. “These little companies come out of nowhere, and they surprise you,” Akerson remarked in regard to Envia. “I think we’ve got better than a 50-50 chance to develop a car that will go to 200 miles on a charge. That would be a game changer.”

Envia and its battery did not come out of nowhere, of course – they were in large part the product of a supportive energy innovation ecosystem. As related in a previous blog post, the battery was based on technology licensed from Argonne National Laboratory and in addition to funding from GM’s investment arm, Envia received $4 million from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) for technology research and development. Furthermore, ARPA-E sponsored testing of the battery at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana.

The fact that Envia’s energy-dense battery could lead to an electric vehicle with a range of 200 miles per charge is not remarkable on its own. It may be impressive in comparison to new car models like the 2012 Nissan Leaf, which has a range of 73 miles, and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, with a range of 62 miles. But certain models of the 2012 Tesla S electric sedan have a range of 265 miles. Where the Envia battery truly stands out is on the cost issue. The Tesla S models in question have very large – three times the size of what’s in the Nissan Leaf, according to NBC News – and expensive batteries that have contributed to the cars’ starting price tag of $69,900. The Envia battery, however, is expected to cost at least 50% less than conventional batteries, such that company CEO Atul Kapadia has set a conservative target of building “a 200-mile car cost[ing] no more than $25,000 and a 300-mile car cost[ing] no more than $35,000.”

Hopefully, automakers like GM will be able to commercialize breakthrough batteries like that of Envia and make electric vehicles that are genuinely cost and performance competitive with conventional gas cars a reality. If GM’s CEO is to be believed, that reality is potentially a mere two years away.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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