Steve LeVine over at Quartz has an excellent write-up of the Tesla versus General Motors showdown to build the first mass market, long-range EV:
The stakes are enormous. Most electrics have less than 100 miles of range. Experts regard 200 miles as a tipping point, enough to cure many potential electric-car buyers of “range anxiety,” the fear of being stranded when their battery expires. If GM and Tesla crack this, sales of individual electrics could jump from 2,000 or 3,000 vehicles a month to 15 to 20 times that rate, shaking up industries from cars to oil, which were until now certain that large-scale acceptance of electrics was perhaps decades away.
LeVine traces the economic and engineering challenges to bring battery costs down so dramatically. Musk is betting on economies of scale through mass production. But the scientific consensus is dubious. Experts point to the difficulty of building a better anode (the negative electrode):
All current lithium-ion batteries use graphite anodes. But scientists say a big jump in performance would be possible if they could perfect a silicon anode, which would absorb far more lithium than graphite, increasing how much energy could be stored. The problem is that in tests thus far, silicon expands, cracks and kills the battery. The US government is funding six efforts to create a working silicon anode that can go commercial, but even if one or more are successful, they would not deliver a 200-mile car by 2017 or 2018.
Meanwhile, Nissan is quietly improving the LEAF’s battery range. By 2020, given the current decreases in battery costs, Nissan may be able to offer a 170-mile model for the current price (approximately $29,000).
It’s very encouraging to see so much capital and ingenuity devoted to cracking this battery code. Let’s hope for success and that it happens quickly.