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ELECTRIC VEHICLE AND EV BATTERY MYTHS

When it comes to any new technology, there will always be misinformation and some confusion about what it can and cannot do.  Electric vehicle batteries have fallen into this category.  This is a two-part article that looks at some of the most common myths surrounding electric vehicle batteries and gets to the facts rather than the speculation. 

MYTH: EV BATTERIES RUN OUT OF ELECTRICITY TOO QUICKLY

What people actually mean is that the distance that they can drive is limited by the capacity of the EV battery. How far an electric vehicle can travel on a single charge has been one of the biggest concerns of potential new owners.  For some time, the figure of 125 miles or 201 km has been stuck in the mind of the public. 

The good news is that driving range is improving year-on-year.  Some of the most recent electric vehicles have significantly longer ranges and can now travel 250 miles or more on a single charge.  In fact, the Tesla Model S has a range of 375 miles and the Jaguar I-Pace measures in at 285 miles. EV battery manufacturers are already testing new units that have ranges more than 500 miles.

Naturally, it will take some time for these advances to filter through to all electric vehicles and the availability of recharging stations will continue to play an important part in the success of the transition to electric.  Still, where suitable infrastructure is already in place, long-distance drive is now very feasible.

MYTH: CHARGING AN EV BATTERY TAKES TOO LONG

Let’s face it, people always seem to be looking for faster solutions and when it comes to charging EV batteries, we’d like it to be as quick as filling up with petrol at the pump.  We are not there yet but the time it takes to recharge an EV battery has fallen considerably and will only continue to get better as new generations of EV cells and more effective charging points become accessible.

Fast charging systems are now becoming far more common and are already appearing at many motorway services across Europe.  Fuel companies now have long-term plans in place to increase these in both number and performance as the use of electric vehicles rises.  For example, a 100kW charger can deliver 80% or more capacity in around 50 minutes compared to around 9 hours needed from a home charging system for the same battery.

However, speed of charging is only part of the consideration.  It is predicted that the vast majority of EV batteries will still be charged overnight while their owners are sleeping.  Many electric vehicle users feel that the slight inconvenience of plugging in the car to the charger at home far outweighs the inconvenience of having to go to a petrol station, possibly wait in a queue and then fill the tank, pay and e queue again to get back on the road.  Speed of charging therefore becomes less important (based on the Kia e-Niro’s 64kWh battery).

BP already has ultra-fast 150kW chargers on their forecourts and during late 2020 Lucid Motors revealed that its charging capacity and strategy for the ‘Air’ electric sedan now has an impressive 300 kW peak charge rate, bi-directional charging and a 19-kW level-2 charging capacity.  Given these advances, it is reasonable to expect 300kw charging systems to be common within three to five years with a charging rate of 25 miles per minute.

Awareness of these advances is expected to become widespread public knowledge and will be a major factor in increasing demand for electric vehicles.

MYTH: EV BATTERIES ARE EXTREMELY DANGEROUS TO TRANSPORT?

No, this is a myth so long as they are managed professionally.  EV batteries are not extremely dangerous to use and transport but they do need specialist supervision and regulation to ensure safety. You see, it is true that EV batteries, like many other products, do contain a range of potentially harmful elements that require specialised management and handling.  These include Lithium Hydroxide, Cobalt and specifically the electrolytes within the unit.  Currently, EV batteries are classed as dangerous goods and are clearly regulated for all modes of transport to ensure compliance and safe transportation.  However, to use the term ‘very dangerous’ is an exaggeration and the logistics industry is fully committed to ensuring the safe and effective transportation of these items.

Much of the public concern regarding the use and shipment of EV batteries focuses on fire-related issues.  It is true that lithium-ion batteries can fail and get too hot just, as it’s true that the petrol in traditional cars can catch fire.  This is extremely rare but even so, both manufacturers and shipping organisations are working tirelessly to further reduce any risk with specialist packaging, monitoring and improved manufacturing techniques.  Based on a study that compared 300,000 operational Tesla cars to traditional petrol vehicles, the number of fires in electric vehicles was significantly lower.

The transportation risks associated with EV batteries are actually very low if they are managed properly and it is essential that logistics companies take the lead – and that is just what DHL has been doing.  Every year,12 new technologies from cryogenics to smart packaging are investigated, evaluated and where appropriate adopted to improve the process.

MYTH: EV BATTERIES CAN’T BE RECYCLED

Again, this is just not true.  There are already many ways that an electric vehicle battery can be recycled.  According to the Energy Saving Trust (August 2020), processing centres can already extract up to 98% of materials for recycling or reuse from modern vehicle batteries.

The European Union Battery Directive also clearly demands that at least 50% of the battery, in its entirety, must be recycled.  In addition, the Directive stipulates that the components of EV batteries may not include hazardous substances that would negatively impact the recycling process. 

Recycling does have its challenges and requires specialist facilities specifically to deal with the volatile electrolyte before the remaining components of the battery can be processed.  Fortunately, the increased demand for EV battery recycling means that economies of scale are coming into play and the cost of the process is falling while the demand for the reclaimed elements is rising.  For example, the reclamation of nickel and cobalt could soon prove cheaper than raw material production. 

According to Daimler: “In eight to ten years there will be a significant number of vehicle batteries available for recycling. Then in particular cobalt, nickel, copper, and later also silicon will be [more] recycled.”

A key part of recycling EV batteries is the concept of reuse or ‘second Life’. The concept is straightforward.  Batteries that are no longer capable of the high-performance needed for vehicles are still, with minor modifications, more than sufficient for other uses such as home power storage and for national energy reserves.  It is estimated that used EV batteries will create a reserve capacity measured in terawatt-hours.  This could have a beneficial impact on the need to import and export energy thus reducing overall production costs. These will be reconditioned batteries and logistics companies will be called on to transport these to the second use owners.

The truth is that technological advances in battery technology have been somewhat overlooked by the general public in recent years. The electric vehicle revolution is well and truly underway with supporting infrastructure increasing significantly every year.  In our next article, we look at five more common myths about batteries and their logistics management.  We even answer that all important question – can you take an electric vehicle through a car wash?