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I was at a family picnic on the 4th of July and telling people in attendance about the new-to-us Chevy Bolt parked in the driveway. One of the guests, who is in his 80s, listened politely and then scoffed, “Those cars are no good in the winter.” Too bad he had not heard the most recent news from CATL, which announced this week it has developed batteries that are much better suited to cold weather operation,

There are two lessons here. First, someone who is not known for being well informed about the EV revolution has nevertheless heard about the issues that bedevil electric cars in the winter. He couldn’t tell you how many cylinders the car he is driving has but he knows cold and batteries are not friends. What that says to me is that the fear, uncertainty, and doubt about electric cars is widely disseminated, thanks to the ceaseless efforts of the fossil fuel industry and their paid professional stooges.

The second lesson is that for the EV revolution to fully succeed, the weaknesses of today’s batteries need to be acknowledged and overcome. People in Norway don’t seem to be unduly concerned about driving an EV in winter, but people in the northern tier of US states and in Canada have heard the horror stories. They get spread on Faux News but they also get planted in mainstream news organizations like the Washington Post.

What isn’t getting out the way it should is the information people need to calm their fears about winter driving in an electric car. Frequent CleanTechnica contributor Fritz Hasler has plenty to say on the subject, and we have weighed in more than once with articles on the subject. At the present time, some cars are better at performing in the cold than others

CATL & Cold Weather

CATL, the world’s largest battery manufacturer, announced this week that it has developed new materials for lithium-ion batteries that will dramatically improve charging efficiency for electric cars, especially in extreme cold.

According to Reuters, Wu Kai, CATL’s chief scientist, told a forum in Shanghai that the key is new electrolyte materials developed by the company. Wu did not detail how CATL had been able to achieve the improved battery performance he described. He said the new electrolyte could deliver a 50% increase in efficiency in extreme cold (minus 20 degrees Celsius) and 43% under more normal temperatures.

Winter weather conditions are a challenge for EVs since the cold slows reactions inside the electrolyte solution needed to pass a charge between the battery cathode and the anode. In cold conditions, the battery also has to do extra work to heat itself and the interior of the car it is fitted to, further reducing range.

10-Minute Charging Time

Another person I know is baffled by the idea of charging. My wife and I have a 240-volt outlet in the carport of our condo at home, but it is only 20 amps. That was the largest wire the electrician was able to push through the existing carport and the meter room. It’s a low-power solution, but we don’t use the car every day, so if it takes overnight to charge, it matters little to us.

My neighbor is aghast at the idea of charging for 8 to 10 hours, even though when we are done, we usually don’t need to charge again for a week. Trying to explain to him about Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 charging makes his eyes roll back into his head. He just cannot understand why people would voluntarily put themselves through such an ordeal when he can go to Cumberland Farms and fill his tank in 10 minutes.

It is a hard question to grasp and there are plenty of people in the world who don’t care a fig about global warming and carbon emissions. They still think trees and plants need carbon dioxide to grow, so more of the stuff should be a good thing.

In addition to addressing cold weather performance, Wu said CATL will mass produce a battery capable of delivering 400 kilometers of driving range with a 10-minute charging time by the end of 2023. From there, the company will ratchet up its target to a charge time of 5–7 minutes for a similar range. He did not offer any technical details about these new batteries, so we don’t know if they are semi-solid state.

The Quest for Solid-State Batteries

Toyota lit up the internet recently when it said it would have electric cars powered by solid-state batteries within a few years. It claims the batteries will offer a range of 745 miles and have a charge time of 10 minutes. The Japanese company claimed its new batteries would cost half as much and weigh half as much as conventional lithium-ion batteries in use today.

In a press release, Toyota said, “The next-generation battery EVs will adopt new batteries, through which we are determined to become a world leader in battery EV energy consumption. With the resources we earn, we will improve our product appeal to exceed customer expectations and secure earnings. We will roll out next generation BEVs globally and as a full lineup to be launched in 2026. By 2030, 1.7 million units out of 3.5 million overall will be provided by BEV Factory. Please look forward to a carmaker produced battery EV that inspires the hearts of all customers.”

Wu said he was skeptical that solid-state batteries were ready for mass production and skeptical of the cost reduction claims. “What I am sure of is no one is capable of mass producing solid-state batteries in the industry currently. They claim to be able to halve the costs, which is very exciting and would be very disruptive, but I wonder what base they are comparing it to.” That seems like a valid point.

News of battery improvements are coming thick and fast these days. There very well may be companies other than CATL that are ready to bring next-generation batteries that last longer, drive further, charge faster, and work better in cold conditions. It must be hell for automakers to know which way to turn when it comes to sourcing batteries for their electric cars.

It’s beginning to feel like the heady days of computers when faster, more powerful processors were being unveiled almost every week, making the machines people bought in the morning obsolete by the afternoon. But it’s all good news for EV enthusiasts. The electric cars of next year and the year after will represent a quantum leap in battery technology. The EV revolution is just getting started and things are about to get interesting.

 


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