The Future of Electric Car Batteries

8 minutes Published: 16/03/2022

If we are to ever realise our fully-electric, emissions-free future, we’re going to need to invest a lot of money in a familiar piece of tech: batteries. 

Today, most electric cars use lithium-ion batteries, similar to the ones we find in our smartphones. But with customers demanding longer ranges, faster charging, and greener, more durable batteries, what does the future of electric car batteries look like?

The Future of EV Batteries

The electric car battery of the future could take many forms. R&D departments around the globe are experimenting with a range of different technologies in a race to produce the cheapest, lightest, most energy dense, and longest-lasting battery packs. 

Here’s what the EV batteries of the future might look like:

Battery chemistry

In the future, the chemical composition of electric car batteries will definitely change.

Most electric car batteries are made of a combination of metals like lithium, cobalt and nickel. Launched in 1991, the lithium-ion battery is the most common electric car battery type, following on from its success in an array of consumer devices such as smartphones and laptops.

When compared to the lead-acid 12V battery found in all conventional cars, lithium-ion batteries are more efficient and three times longer-lasting. 

But they’re not without their faults. The most widely used lithium-ion battery chemistry is lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC). But researchers have found that lithium iron phosphate batteries (LFP), can be both cheaper and safer, with better thermal and chemical stability.

Researchers are also looking into lithium-sulphur batteries as a way to eliminate expensive metals like cobalt and nickel from the equation. 

Once production is scaled up, they could make EVs cheaper than with petrol/diesel cars, and offer a range of other benefits, including greater energy density, and strong performance in temperatures as low as -30 degrees or as high as 60 degrees. 

Lithium remains relatively rare, and this has prompted geologists to seek out new sources. But there are also potential alternatives to lithium. For example, sodium-ion batteries are fast-gaining interest due to their lower cost. One major downside, however, is that sodium is heavier and less suitable for storing energy than lithium.

Solid-state batteries offer one of the most promising future alternatives to current EV battery technologies. Battery cells would use a ceramic electrolyte instead of the organic liquids seen in today’s Li-ion batteries. This has big implications for how an EV battery works. It greatly reduces the risk of fire and allows for more energy dense battery packs with a longer-life expectancy and even faster charging. 

According to Toyota, we can expect solid state batteries to be in production as early as 2025.

Battery range

If you’ve ever owned an EV, or if you know someone who has, chances are you’ve heard of ‘range anxiety’. That’s the feeling an EV owner gets when they don’t know whether they’ll make it to the next charging point. 

When the first mass-market EVs launched over a decade ago, the median electric range was just 68 miles. This figure was (of course) only achievable on paper, in the right driving conditions, and (probably) with the heating turned off.

To put that into perspective, on a cold winter’s day, a typical Scottish commuter could just about drive their ‘average’ EV from Glasgow to Edinburgh and back, provided they plugged in while at work and layered up for the journey. 

Fast forward to 2020 and the median electric car range was 259 miles - over 3.8 times as far!

So how far will EVs of the future go? Already, top spec EVs like the Tesla Model S Plaid are within reach of the 400 mile mark.

While companies like Tesla are turning to LFP batteries for a cheaper solution, they are less energy dense. The same is true of sodium-ion batteries, which are expected to be as much as 20% cheaper than LFP and provide better performance at lower temperatures. It’s not unreasonable to expect greater divergence in electric range between budget and luxury EVs in the future for this reason. 

Several companies are turning to solid-state batteries in the hope of unlocking more range. These batteries use solid electrolytes (typically sodium) instead of the liquid electrolytes found in current EV batteries. It may be several years before this technology reaches the market, but when it does, experts predict it could double the range of current EVs

Structural batteries

There’s a lot of talk about ‘energy density’, but structural batteries could be another way to effectively save weight while increasing the range of an electric vehicle. 

The underlying principle is that batteries are not only useful for providing power, but also as a structural component. This could reduce the need for other structural components, relying on the strength of the battery instead. 

Currently, Tesla builds battery packs by combining an array of cells into modules, which when put together form a battery pack, which is then installed into the vehicle platform.

At ‘battery day’ last year, however, Tesla announced that the battery pack for the new Model Y and Model S Plaid would form part of the structural platform of the vehicle, using a new honeycomb design for extra strength. It would result in 370 fewer parts, a 10% reduction in mass, and the opportunity for up to 14% extra range.

It’s a bold move in an industry that has been more inclined to shield EV battery packs, but it could facilitate the next big leap in EV range.

Lifespan

All EV batteries are rated for a number of ‘cycles’. A battery cycle is the time it takes for a battery to be fully charged and discharged. 

Over time, repeated cycles of charging and discharging will degrade the battery. This decreases the maximum range of the car and the time between charges. Most manufacturers offer a five to eight-year warranty on their battery, though it’s expected that the average electric car battery will last from 10 – 20 years before it needs to be replaced.

How long an electric car battery actually lasts can depend on a variety of factors, from the type of climate the car is used in, to the amount it is rapidly charged, and how often it undergoes a ‘deep discharge’.

In any case, the average lifespan of an EV battery could be set to increase three-fold with the emergence of solid state batteries. 

Toyota hopes to maintain more than 90% ‘State of Health’ (SOH) of its solid-state batteries after 30 years of use. In effect, this would mean an EV battery would only lose 10% of it’s maximum range over three decades, going far beyond the ‘million mile’ battery announced last year by Tesla.

Wireless charging

Wireless charging may seem like a bit of a gimmick in smartphones, but it could be set to revolutionise EV charging. 

In the UK, EV charging specialist Char.gy is already trialling charging pad technology in hope that it will provide improved access to chargers for those without off-street access. 

Wireless charging could eliminate electric car charging cable theft, remove potential trip or collision hazards for other road or pavement users, and reduce unnecessary clutter on the roadside. 

The trial uses Renault Zoes that have been equipped with after-market induction kits, though it’s likely that if the trial proves successful, more EV manufacturers will consider implementing wireless charging technology in new EVs.

Sure, wirelessly charging while the car is stationary is cool, but what about while actually driving? 

The Smartroad Gotland project is a 1.6km long ‘electric road’ between the airport and the town of Visby on the idyllic island of Gotland. Developed with Israeli company Electreon, it could provide a smart solution for long haul truck fleets by eliminating the need for heavy, expensive batteries and time-consuming charging stops

Cost

Since 1991, the cost of lithium-ion batteries has fallen by over 97%. Global average battery prices fell a further 6% from 2020 to 2021, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that by 2024, the cost to produce an EV battery will be roughly $100 per kWh. 

$100 per kWh is widely believed to be the point at which EVs will be cheaper to produce than petrol or diesel cars. But it won’t stop there. BNEF believes that by 2030, the cost to produce an EV battery could be as low as $74 per kWh.

Several studies have highlighted the lower running costs and cheaper electric car maintenance costs when compared to petrol  and diesel cars, which may already make them cheaper than ICEs over their lifetime, particularly if you are able to charge your electric car at home with cost-cutting EV tariffs. But if EV battery prices continue on this downwards trajectory, EVs could actually be cheaper to buy than ICEs by as early as 2027.

Should I buy an electric car now or wait for better batteries?

It’s the question on everyone’s lips: should I buy an electric car now, or wait? If there are so many great innovations on the horizon, surely it’s better to just sit tight and wait for the next breakthrough in battery technology?

When it comes to cost, we can see why you might be tempted to wait. But while EVs may currently have a higher RRP than petrol or diesel cars, many are still eligible for a range of UK Government grants for electric cars like the Plug-in Car Grant (PiCG). 

Surely future electric cars will be better for the environment too, you say? We’ve no doubt.  But just because current EV batteries are predicted to have a much shorter lifespan than EV batteries of the future, it doesn’t mean they can’t be recycled or repurposed. 

In fact, as the first generation of EV batteries goes into retirement, many are finding a new lease of life as batteries for electric forklifts, back-up power supplies, and storage for solar power facilities. Meanwhile, car battery recycling ensures that manufacturers are able to recover precious metals like cobalt from batteries that can no longer be used for alternate purposes.

While you might be able to get a better range off-the-bat with future EVs, the UK’s rapidly expanding charging network means you’ll never be too far from an electric car chargepoint. You can see for yourself with our electric car charging point map!

And while future EV batteries may come with wireless charging built-in, there’s no reason why inductive charging pads can’t be retro-fitted if needed, as we’ve seen with Char.gy’s wireless charging trial. 

So go on… what are you waiting for?

Conclusion

There’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to EV batteries. New technologies could mean it’s soon possible to travel between most corners of the UK on just a single charge, and that our EV batteries could soon be charged in a matter of minutes. 

But that doesn’t mean you should wait around until the next big innovation. Investing in an EV now is a great way to cut costs - and your carbon footprint. 

If you’re looking for your next car, why not take a look at our lists of the cheapest electric cars and the best small electric cars for some inspiration? 

And when you’re ready to take the plunge, compare electric car lease deals with Lease Fetcher to nab the best possible price.