TechnologyA revolution in transportation is coming thanks to advances in batteries

A revolution in transportation is coming thanks to advances in batteries

ANDn 1899, a Belgian man climbed into a torpedo-shaped car outside Paris and set a new land speed record. The Never Content, as the machine was called, was the first road vehicle to exceed 100 km/h and set the standard for automotive innovation at the time. It was also electric.

The driver, Camille Jenatzy, owned a plant that produced electric carriages, which at the time were very popular ways of getting around cities. Fleets of battery-powered taxis buzzed the streets of London and New York in the 1890s and early 1900s; there were more than 30,000 electric vehicles registered in the United States at a time when the most common means of transportation was the horse-drawn carriage.

Electric cars lacked the smell, vibration, and noise of their fuel-powered counterparts; however, due to the absence of electrical infrastructure beyond the big cities, together with the lack of autonomy, little by little they were usurped by polluting vehicles.

It has taken more than a century of battery improvements for them to once again become a viable alternative to gasoline-powered cars; the number of electric car sales tripled between 2020 and 2022. Projections from the International Energy Agency suggest that the electric car market will continue to grow exponentially in 2023, although it will still account for less than a fifth of all electric car sales. cars.

Such a resurgence has required a huge investment in battery research, supercharging progress and leading some industry insiders to predict that we are about to enter a second golden age for electric vehicles. Not only are electric car sales forecast to surpass fossil fuel-powered car sales in the next 15 years, but recent advances could soon electrify all sectors of transportation, from commercial airlines to cargo ships.

For electric cars, several key milestones have been reached in recent years, including the first road car to travel more than 1,000 km on a single charge. Both Toyota and Volkswagen have announced plans to begin commercial production of next-generation batteries capable of offer this range for mass market vehiclesallowing them to travel approximately twice as far of today’s gasoline or diesel cars.

‘La Jamais Contente’, driven by Camille Jenatzy, achieved a record of 106 km/h on April 29, 1899 in Achères, France

(Wikimedia Commons)

Nearly all major automakers have also set targets to phase out production of cars with internal combustion engines entirely by 2040, including Ford, General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover and Volvo, but for that to be achieved, there is still There are significant obstacles to overcome.

“We continue to see charging, access to battery materials and battery degradation as pain points in the transition to electric vehicles,” David Fairbairn, managing director of British engineering firm CALLUM, told The Independent.

His company is working to reduce charging times for electric cars to just a few minutes, so that charging is as convenient as charging a gasoline or diesel car. Together with Cambridge-based battery developer Nyobolt, the companies unveiled an electric vehicle capable of being fully charged in less than six minutes.

Production of the next-generation lithium-ion battery is scheduled to start in 2024, and Nyobolt CEO Sai Shivareddy said the company is ready for rapid expansion to “increase the accessibility of electric vehicles.” , even for the 40% of UK households who cannot charge their vehicle at home overnight.

The Nyobolt EV developed by CALLUM incorporates advanced battery technology that can be charged in less than six minutes.

(CALLUM/ Nyobolt)

For electric planes and cargo ships, charging time is not a major problem. However, other factors, such as power density, cost, and capacity, continue to hold back its widespread adoption.

Elon Musk, who pioneered the widespread adoption of electric vehicles with Tesla, said in 2021 that he was “dying for it” to expand beyond cars and trucks to build a supersonic electric plane.

“I have a design for an airplane,” he revealed on the Joe Rogan podcast. “The exciting thing would be some kind of electric vertical takeoff and landing, a supersonic jet,” adding that more work would make his “brain explode.” While he later added Twitter to his workload, the tech billionaire isn’t the only one with ideas for an electric plane.

Last year, start-up Eviation completed the maiden flight of an electric airliner, capable of carrying nine passengers and their luggage, or one ton of cargo. The Alice aircraft has been hailed as the first battery-powered aircraft viable for short-haul commercial travel of up to 645 km (400 mi).

Two US-based airlines have already ordered 125 Alice aircraft, while logistics companies such as DHL have also expressed interest.

Eviation’s all-electric Alice aircraft takes off in Moses Lake, Washington for its maiden flight on September 27, 2022

(The Seattle Times via AP)

A long-awaited breakthrough in battery design last year means that larger planes could soon follow these smaller aircraft. For long-haul electric aircraft, the required energy density is 500 Wh/kg, almost double that of the lithium-ion batteries found in the latest Tesla, and the Japanese researchers finally hit the threshold with a state-of-the-art lithium-air design. The challenge now is to get this technology out of the lab and deliver on its promise in the real world.

For boats, the big barrier is cost. He The world’s first crewless, all-electric cargo ship sailed last year; however, the price to build it was three times that of a conventional ship. For an industry that generates 2-3% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Maritime Organization, the need to transition to green alternatives means that several start-ups are already working to reduce costs. costs.

There is a prototype that uses batteries stored in shipping containers, which can be exchanged for new ones at each port it arrives at. Steve Henderson, co-founder of design-pioneering start-up company Fleetzero, said in a recent podcast appearance: “What we are convinced of today is that the future of boats is electric.”

Companies like Amazon and Ikea have already pledged to migrate to zero-carbon shipping by 2040, and if progress follows the same trajectory as electric cars and planes, batteries could be the primary means of air, sea, and land propulsion within of the next two decades.

Translation of Michelle Padilla

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