Can EV batteries really last a million miles?

Perhaps you have already heard of the “million-mile battery” phrase? It is the latest in the electric vehicle industry to excite the public’s interest in investing in electric vehicles (EVs). 

If you haven’t heard about it, don’t worry, most EV car manufacturers will be shouting with excitement about it soon, in particular Elon Musk at Tesla. Tesla is currently working on a “million-mile” battery project within their R&D section. 

Internal combustion engines (ICE) in today’s market generally can last around 200,000 miles with some regular maintenance along the way. This is considered a good run for any vehicle, regardless of whether it is ICE or EV. The fact that we are talking about reports of a million miles powered by a long-lasting Lithium battery is astonishing on so many levels. 

Who’s leading this race? 

Recently, multiple EV battery makers have announced the arrival of a “million-mile” battery for EVs. In May 2020, General Motors (GM) released a statement claiming they are “almost there” to develop a battery. Not only this, but GM is working on the next generation of battery technology such as zero-cobalt electrodes, solid-state electrolytes and ultra-fast charging. 

GM unveiled its Ultium advanced battery system in March 2020 to rival Tesla. It stated that its $2.3 billion battery production venture with LG Chem would be called Ultium Cells LLC. Its sole purpose is to find ways of reducing battery costs in EVs by investing in mines, hedging metal prices and partnering with metal refiners. 

One of the biggest names in EVs is Tesla, and it is no surprise that Tesla will soon be able to power its EVs for more than a million miles over its lifespan. That’s double the mileage that current Tesla EVs can expect now. This project is being led by Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL), who make batteries for Tesla and Volkswagen AG. 

CATL is now going one further to produce a battery that can last 16 years or 1.24 million miles. The idea behind this is not only to reduce the battery waste disposal when it reaches its end of life but to also implement a battery recycling scheme. It is suggested that batteries could be swapped between vehicles, which would lower the cost of owning a brand new EV. 

Battery technology 

Most EV batteries in today’s market are all made up of Lithium Ion, using several different chemistries within the battery. When you purchase an EV today, it will come with a warranty period of 8-10 years or 100-200,000 miles. Some aspects of the warranty may differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. Still, some will guarantee that a battery will retain at least 70% of its original capacity over the warranty period. 

In reality, it has been determined that EV batteries will last considerably longer with much less degradation. EV has been around for more than ten years, so experts are beginning to look at the data in much greater detail. 

The data that experts have analysed has shown that it is doubtful that an EV will be removed from the road due to a fully degraded battery. This is sometimes the case for EVs used for business purposes such as deliveries and taxis; it certainly isn’t for consumer EVs. 

The current concerns surrounding batteries are: how long will the battery last? How will the charge capacity and range decline over time? These are questions every EV buyer will be asking when investing in electric vehicles. A battery that could last for over a million miles and will most likely outlive the car itself will undoubtedly answer those questions. Even with a 500,000 mile warranty period, it will go a long way to easing those concerned about replacing the battery at high costs in the future. This would be more so the case with fleets of vehicles for deliveries or taxi firms. 

EV manufacturers currently use nickel-cobalt-aluminium (NCA) or nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) on passenger vehicles due to their higher density of energy, which is an essential factor when considering how far an EV can drive on a single charge. 

The potential issue with cobalt batteries is the high cost of the metal and the enormous environmental cost of mining it. It is forecasted that the metal cost will rise, and the demand will also increase over the next ten years. To address this issue, there are several recycling schemes in place to recycle the batteries, but if they are expected to last half a million or one million miles, then this may not happen for 10-20 years. There are now calls for batteries to be recycled much earlier than the anticipated life span. 

Another solution is to seek other materials and advance research in battery technology, which is what CATL is currently doing. CATL is working on a lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery, which will lower its production costs and boost its battery density and safety. CATL has been working on this technology along with their cell-to-pack technology. 

When are we going to see a million-mile battery in EVs? 

Even though the technology is already there or “almost there”, as others have claimed, we might not see them being implemented until 2030. This could be due to several factors, including current battery commitments and purchase orders. Some car manufacturers are still in that transition between ICE and EVs and could be playing catch up in the market. 

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