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You’re probably already interested in the potential of electric cars.

But maybe you also have the usual concerns about actually buying one: the price, the range, and worries about where you are going to charge the thing and how long you’ll be stuck there.

Yet the market certainly seems to reckon they are the future. Just look at the Tesla share price.

Teslar Car at motor show

 

Gigantic batteries connected to our electricity grids are going to be central to the great renewable energy revolution too.

“We are entering into a nearly exponential growth phase”, says Prof Paul Shearing. He’s an expert on emerging battery technologies at University College London.

He expects electric vehicles alone to drive European battery demand up by a factor of 10 this decade.

But this explosion in demand will only be possible if we can make batteries cheaper, more durable and more efficient.

That is a big ask for any technology but fear not, Elon Musk’s proposed “battery day” comes thanks to a whole cascade of breakthroughs

The Shanghai factory (below) was build rapidly and the next planned so called ‘Gigafactory’ is slated for Berlin.

Shanghai_Gigafactory

The first of these was announced just last week when the Chinese battery-maker that supplies most of the major car makers, including Tesla, revealed it had produced the first “million mile battery”

Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) says its new battery is capable of powering a vehicle for more than a million miles (1.2 million, to be precise – or 1.9 million km) over a 16-year lifespan.

Most car batteries offer warranties for 60,000-150,000 miles over a three to eight-year period.

This is a huge improvement in battery life, but will cost just 10% more than existing products, says CATL chair, Zeng Yuqun

You need to be able to buy Chinese stocks to invest. Contact me to find out how.

Having a battery you never need to change is obviously good news for the electric car industry. But longer-lasting batteries are also essential for what’s known as “stationary” storage too.

These are the batteries we can attach to wind turbines or solar panels so renewable energy is available when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

Fairly soon you might even want a stationary battery in your home to store cheap off-peak electricity, or to collect the power your own solar panels generate

The next barrier that is likely to be broken is price.

The landmark challenge in the electric vehicle industry is to get a battery costing under $100 (£78) per kilowatt hour.

“At that point you start to get electric vehicles that are cheaper than the equivalent internal combustion vehicles,” says Seth Weintraub, a US battery technology journalist.

Once that happens the internal combustion engine will be effectively dead., he says, comparing it to how digital killed off film cameras a decade ago.

 

Raw materials

Tesla’s Chinese partner CATL has found a way to make batteries free of cobalt, at least for shorter-range vehicles.

Cobalt is expensive and a lot is sourced from DR Congo, where it has been associated with child labour.

There are no plans to get rid of the key ingredient in lightweight batteries, lithium.

There are large supplies in salt deposits around the world, including the biggest single reserve – as yet unexploited – in the hauntingly beautiful Salar de Uyuni salt plain in the remote Bolivian Andes.

The problem is the current method of separating out the lithium in these deposits is slow and inefficient.

The biggest salt lake currently being mined is the Salar de Atacama in Chile. And at their significantly lower altitude, the Chileans can use natural evaporation to crystallise the salts, driven by the intense sunshine of the Atacama Desert.

See my previous article on electric cars here