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Lithium ion battery sales set to rev up thanks mainly to e-bikes and scooters

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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scooter, e-bike,lithium ion, ChinaInterest in electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids has come on strong over the past year or so, pushed relentlessly by carmakers promoting a newer, greener generation of transportation. As the Chevy Volt, Ford Transit Connect Electric, Nissan Leaf and others trickle out into the marketplace over the next year, it’s clear that they will go only as far as their lithium ion batteries can take them (which right now isn’t all that far).

Help may be on the way, per a report released earlier this month by Boston’s Lux Research projecting a massive wave in spending on energy storage technologies over the next five years. More specifically, the firm predicts the market for batteries, supercapacitors and fuel cells for transportation as well as storage, distributed generation, and transmission and distribution technologies for the power grid will more than double from $21.4 billion in 2010 to $44.4 billion in 2015.

The market for electric vehicle energy storage technology will nearly double from $7.7 billion this year to $14.5 billion in 2015, and batteries will be a major part of this growth. Surprisingly, electronic bikes (e-bikes) and scooters, as opposed to plug-in hybrids and EVs, will drive the biggest growth for vehicle batteries in the next five years, lead author and analyst Jacob Grose said in a press release. Sales of e-bike and scooter batteries are expected to surge from $6.4 billion in 2010 to $10.9 billion five years from now.

Whereas lead-acid batteries are most common today in transportation devices (they’re found in 93 percent of China’s e-bikes, for example), demand for lithium ion batteries will grow nearly three times faster than for lead-acid moving forward.

That’s good news for those interested in buying a plug-in hybrid or EV because lithium ion battery performance will need to improve rapidly to make these vehicles appealing to all but the most hardcore greenies. Chevy says the first-generation Volt (a gas/electric hybrid) will travel about 65 kilometers on a fully charged battery before the gas engine kicks in. The Transit Connect Electric and Leaf (both fully electric) are expected to run for about 130 kilometers and 160 kilometers, respectively, on a full battery.

The truth, however, is that no one really knows exactly how long these batteries will last in real-world driving conditions, when air conditioning, portable GPS units and other electrical devices are competing with the motor for battery juice. Nor do the car companies know how much a battery’s performance will degrade over time, after it’s been charged and recharged hundreds of times. With most of these vehicles taking anywhere from four to eight hours to fully re-charge (at least until there is a fast-charging infrastructure), some in the auto industry admit that fully-electric vehicles might be better suited as a family’s second car, the one that runs around town as opposed to the primary vehicle gets its owners to and from work in the suburbs.

To change this, money needs to go to research that can improve lithium ion batteries’ ability to rapidly charge and discharge as well as stay safe under intense operating conditions, all while lowering the costs of the batteries.

Image of a typical scooter in China ©iStockphoto.com/ John Romans





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  1. 1. jerryd 7:33 pm 03/31/2010

    There is so much misinformation here I don’t know where to start.

    Ebikes are not going to lithium until the price drops by 70% which will take yrs. Most lithium now goes to electronics, not EV’s or utilities which have almost none. How many are going to pay $1k for a bike battery when you can buy a lead one for $100?

    In fact most lithium battery companies have no orders. And EV’s are being done by just a couple companies and the car companies will make their own soon cutting even that demand. Plus it will be yrs before enough EV’s. hybrids are built to use any real amount of batteries.

    Supercaps and fuelcells are expensive toys that don’t make economic sense for much of anything.

    Utilities won’t use them or lithium as far too expensive and will use molten salt or lead instead as 1/3 the cost.

    I know these things because I build custom EV’s and have tracked these for 30 yrs.

    Link to this
  2. 2. oldvic 6:55 am 04/1/2010

    "How many are going to pay $1k for a bike battery when you can buy a lead one for $100?"
    Er… I did. A simple calculation showed me that, taking only into account the fuel savings, I could pay for the bicycle in 2 to 3 years. I’m leaving aside reduced maintenance and wear costs for the car, and not taking into account improved health and other side benefits. Even if I have to replace the battery within that period, the savings from the car’s maintenance will more than pay for it.
    While I agree that battery prices need to come down, it pays to do a little math, and I suspect that the result will often be on the side of the bike.

    Link to this
  3. 3. JamesDavis 8:36 am 04/1/2010

    All this old technology is a stalling ploy by the auto manufacturers so the oil companies can make more billions of dollars profit. If they would just do a little research on SciAm’s magazine’s search engine on liquit salt and liquid metal batteries, they would solve their problem and make their customers happier.

    "oldvis" is correct, "do the math" and do the research and you will discover that that 1k battery, if it is added into the price of the car, and you can bet it will be, will pay for itself in less than five years. Your auto insurance company, since we are forced to have auto insurance, can insure you battery and replace it for you up until your car reaches 50 to 75,000 miles, or the auto manufacturer can do that like they do with their drivetrain and other critical parts of the car.

    Either way, this problem with electric cars can be solved with a little simple thinking.

    Link to this
  4. 4. bolton 10:02 am 04/1/2010

    i hold lithium stock, and i recommend you do to

    Link to this
  5. 5. taerog 4:38 pm 04/1/2010

    Here is another angle (one of many) that does muddy the field a bit and make it not so black and white.

    "most lithium now goes to electronics" – yes it does, in the form of small batteries.

    " fact most lithium battery companies have no orders" this may be debatable since it is a growth area making good money. sure it will become saturated at some point.

    But a missing hunk of information is that all of the lithium battery manufacturing in the US and most in the world is for small cells for small applications and not the size needed for larger uses. Thus larger lithium batteries are much more expensive then need be, having to being made in smaller lots (loosening the mass production discounts) or having to be thrown together with 100′s of smaller cells which again has unwanted costs and side effects.

    The ramp up of large cell lithium batteries may be what is needed . . . or not . .

    Link to this
  6. 6. Biodiversivist 12:57 am 04/2/2010

    I’ve been using a set of A1223 batteries to power an electric bike for years now and they are still good as new. The technology is here. We just need to get the price down:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKKvP9wWrlY

    Link to this
  7. 7. Wayne Williamson 4:05 pm 04/3/2010

    biodiversivist…cool link…although something in motion would be nice;-)…plus as you say the price is very high…even with a factor of 10 reduction it is still high…

    Link to this
  8. 8. jackalope66 3:55 pm 08/11/2010

    Since battery powered vehicles can already travel as far on a charge as a tank of gas, how much farther will they have to be able to go for people to stop writing things like "they will go only as far as their lithium ion batteries can take them (which right now isn’t all that far)."

    Link to this
  9. 9. dazarooney 10:43 am 02/20/2011

    Very good article on scooters and their <a href = "http://www.blueboxbatteries.co.uk/search.asp?types=Consumer+Batteries+%3E+Mobility+Scooter+Batteries">Scooter Batteries</a>

    Link to this

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