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Tech Breakthrough Could Help Slumping Electric Car Sales

Haley Zaremba

While electric vehicles have long been touted as the future of the automotive industry, with Tesla becoming not only a household name but a veritable celebrity in and of itself, the industry is facing serious hurdles to growth and more widespread adoption. The oil industry has waged a quiet but well-documented war against the adoption of electric vehicles in the United States. This week Politico reported that “groups backed by industry giants like Exxon Mobil and the Koch empire are waging a state-by-state, multimillion-dollar battle to squelch utilities’ plans to build charging stations across the country.” 

Meanwhile, in China, which has all but taken over the electric vehicles industry in recent years by monopolizing production chains of the lithium batteries that the standard EV currently depends on, electric vehicle sales are also struggling. Despite showing great promise for continued growth earlier this year, EV sales in China are now in serious decline. Quartz reports that “China’s electric vehicle sales saw their first monthly decline in July. In August, the decline was far steeper, dropping by 16 percent from a year earlier to 85,000 units.” The drop in sales comes in direct response to Beijing’s decision to scale back electric vehicle subsidies in March of this year.

While the current outlook is grim for electric vehicles across the globe, a brand-new report shows that there is a glimmer of hope for the electric vehicles industry. This Monday Smart Energy International reported a breakthrough in EV battery technology developed by the UK company ZapGo Ltd, based in Oxford, England. The new carbon-ion battery will be able to change an electric vehicle a whopping 100 times faster than the current standard EV battery and last an impressive 350-mile (500 km) range. For reference, this is comparable to a traditional combustion engine--a serious feat.

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According to Quartz’s reporting, “the battery has solid-state carbon-ion cells and contains no lithium or cobalt, ensuring relative lower cost and safety.” The article goes on to elaborate that by “using only an advanced form of carbon combined with a new type of ionic electrolyte, C-Ion cells cannot catch fire because there is nothing inside that will burn, while the ionic electrolytes act as a fire suppressant. The advanced materials inside can also be recycled at the end of life.”

The lack of lithium in these new batteries is a groundbreaking development in more ways than one. China has managed to gain a large amount of control over the electric vehicles industry thanks to its near total control of global lithium battery production, and the development of a competitive form of battery will bring much-needed diversity to the sector. 

Apart from China’s production chokehold, lithium also presents a problem in the sense that, much like the fossil fuels that electric vehicles aim to replace, it is a finite, non-renewable resource. Last year OilPrice reported that “if all the conventionally-fueled cars in the world were replaced with electric cars overnight, the global supply of lithium would be completely depleted in just approximately fifty years. Yes, this is purely hypothetical; about three million electric cars are currently in use globally--just a drop in the automotive ocean. That being said, that number is projected to skyrocket over the next decade, reaching a global fleet of approximately 125 million by 2030.” The introduction of a super-powerful non-lithium-based battery would be a much-needed relief to the earth’s supply of lithium.

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Carbon-ion cells, in addition to being a helpful alternative to lithium, have many inherent benefits of their own. Quartz explains that “C-Ion cells can be packaged into a vehicle’s structural components such as the chassis and panels, allowing the vehicle to safely accept charge at a faster rate than today’s EVs.”

ZapGo has already conducted pilot tests with its prototype of the new C-Ion battery technology that have proven that the device does indeed have the purported capability to “fully charge an autonomous vehicle in just 35 seconds.” What’s more, says Quartz, is that “the battery can be used on 350kW to 1,500kW (1.5MW) EV chargers, 10 times faster than existing superchargers.”

Looks like electric vehicles have been catapulted back to the future.

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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