How to bring down the costs of lithium-ion battery technologies

A study by the Townsend Group finds many possibilities to reduce the cost of hybrid and plug-in vehicle batteries, but will lithium ever be the battery to mainstream plug-in vehicles?

Is lithium or some other battery technology the key to mainstreaming plug-ins.

Making hybrids and plug-ins cheaper

One of the keys to hybrid and plug-in vehicle success is obviously cheaper costs, and that basically boils down to cheaper batteries. So, what's the potential of achieving cheaper lithium-ion batteries?

To help answer that question, the Townsend Group offered an interesting perspective posted on GreenCarCongress yesterday.

In a nutshell, there are many areas where battery costs could be reduced. However, the Townsend Group contends too much focus is now being placed upon material's science, even though material's science only accounts for 10 percent of battery costs in hybrid cars and 20 percent in plug-in electric cars.

Consequently, the Townsend Group suggests that a broader focus offers up many additional ways of reducing plug-in costs. For more, check out Perspective: Not all reductions in battery costs are found underneath the microscope.

Interestingly, the Townsend Group piece leaves the impression that huge cost reductions are possible. But are the reductions big enough?

Similarly, a number of studies have claimed that battery costs could be reduced by 50 – 60 percent. However, at that point, commodity prices begin to impose a baseline hard to fall below – a baseline that leaves batteries still too expensive for most average consumers, the consensus has concluded. Consequently, there is no doubt that lithium-ion battery prices will fall, significantly. Nevertheless, the cost reductions might still not be enough to make lithium the critical battery technology to mainstream plug-in vehicles.

Does Townsend take a different perspective?

It seems not. Last week a Townsend study noted, β€œTo compete with advancing gasoline/diesel engines, EV traction batteries have to be much more than twice as energy dense as lithium-ion ever will be, at least three times cheaper, and last much longer before replacement.”

Without question, lithium will push the plug-in auto industry forward, leading to greater adoption rates of both hybrids and plug-ins, while exposing consumers to a new way to think about automobiles. And that's a good step forward. However, in order to make electrification the de facto automotive solution, a battery technology beyond lithium almost certainly seems required.

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