Saturday, July 31, 2010

How do we make the Volt cheaper?

Two quick notes on things that happened this week. The first represents the present; the second (hopefully) the future.

Chevy Volt pricing:

Its $41,000. No surprise there. There is a tax rebate that gets this down to $33,500. The leasing option seems cheaper, but seems limited to 12,000 miles a year. I drive 18,000 a year and I rent (which means no charging at home for me). I will not be in line for one anytime soon.

The Nissan Leaf is $33,000 before rebates and $25,500 after. This seems so much more manageable, but its only a 100 miles range. You win some, you lose some. What we need is a cheaper battery.

Which leads me to…

A discussion of the future of the battery:

Those who follow this blog know that most of us at LBNL work as part of a large program called the Batteries For Advanced Transportation Technologies. The Program is funded by the US DOE and has researchers from all over North America. It’s the top battery people from Universities, National Labs, and companies. The team reads like the who’s who of the battery world. The goal of the Program is to perform the research needed to discover and make the next-generation batteries.

This week on Tuesday, all of us met for a day at LBNL to discuss the future of batteries. We discussed ways to make higher energy, lower-cost materials, methods to make the battery last longer, and the challenges with moving to new batteries that promise significantly higher energy density compared to today’s batteries. Below is a photograph that we took at lunch.

I will try to tag the picture at some point.



  1. These are all very nice developments, and more efficient and cheaper batteries are one of the key issues. However, how will the additional electrical energy for these electrical cars be generated right now? By building more conventional coal and gas fired power plant that pollute the atmosphere and emit carbon dioxide? Until the required solar and wind power plants are actually installed and working, the electric car is a short sighted concept that is currently completely oversold by the manufacturers, potential investors, and wind and solar enthusiasts. Of course, there would be nuclear energy. But this is "old stuff" as the former director of LBNL and current secretary of energy called it in 2006 when he gave a speech at the Berkeley Campus. Well, France has shown the world how to do it right - 80% of their electrical energy is generated through nuclear fission - not such "old stuff" at all.....

  2. The cost of a lithium-ion battery is high, as you know. However, the lifetime is limited, as you also know. The public generally does NOT know that the battery of a Volt or Leaf will have to be replaced at some time. One should read carefully the fine print on the guarantee for the battery to be sure that it is not pro-rated like tires. In any case, batteries are expensive and have a limited lifetime.

    This leads to an important point: the cost of electricity to power a car is only a few cents per mile, much cheaper than gasoline. However, the cost of the battery is at least 15 cents per mile ($15,000 for 100,000 miles, which is very optimistic) or even more....estimates run as high as $0.50 per mile for a battery.

  3. I don't rent - but because I have no garage or driveway, like you I have no way to plug in an electric car. This is going to be an irony of electric vehicles: where they are most useful (short trips) in older urban areas they can't be plugged in, but out in the suburban sprawl where everyone gets a garage they can be. What we need, therefore, is an electric vehicle that does not need to be plugged in. A problem, I think.

  4. Buy American. Thanks

  5. The argument that buying electric cars puts an unexpected strain on the electrical grid resulting in more pollution has been proven fallacious, has it not?

  6. Venkat SrinivasanAugust 5, 2010 at 5:40 AM

    Fred-Very interesting way to think about it; as $/mile equivalent.
    Anonymous on Nuclear: I believe Steve Chu did indeed decide that nuclear was also one option. The waste issue appears to still be in limbo in DC.
    Paul S: I had thought that there were reports from NREL that suggested that driving a plug in with the electricity coming from a coal-fired plant is more polluting than a HEV? Is this not true?
    Iain: You articulated the issue very well. In India (where I'm from) there has been a EV for many years called REVA (its pictured behind my mug shot on the right of the blog). The car is apparently ok (its a bit on the smallish side), but everyone worries about charging it given that in most indian cities people like in condo-type housing. The Better Place model would make life easier, although this has its own problems.


  7. The volt (2.0) has one option for a cheaper battery, a much smaller one. The current design is to only use a ~55% SoC window on the 16kwh capacity. That also gets it 40 miles of range. If you nudge both numbers just a reasonable notch, you're looking at a 30-mile/9kwh/66%-soc product that is much cheaper.