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  6. The future lies in range

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The future lies in range

Pure electric vehicles have not taken a comprehensive hold in company fleets as yet – with combustion engine models slightly ahead on longer distances in terms of range and fuel supply system. But that is just a snapshot. Battery technology is advancing at breakneck speed and a number of new technologies are already in the starting blocks. We provide a general overview here.

Unforgettable, that trip from Frankfurt to Copenhagen back in 1988 on just a single tank of fuel. Or that surfing trip with friends to Portugal in the middle of the noughties: more than 2,000 kilometres – and just two refuel stops. Fond memories from the “oil age”. And today? It’s obvious: such stretches cannot be covered with an electric car without longer stops. But will that always be the case? Most definitely not ...

A range of 500 kilometres is already possible
The heart of an electric car is not its drive. Research is ongoing on new electric motors and minor adaptations are being made continually to increase their efficiency. Some developers also sense that improvements could be made in power and torque density. But for now nobody in the automotive industry expects major leaps and a new approach that will change everything. Rather the battery now finds itself at the centre of attention. “The battery cell is the combustion chamber of the future”, reported Porsche CEO Oliver Blume recently at the virtual Volkswagen Power Day. It has a major influence on the range and charging time – and this is also where the most development potential lies. In fact, that sense of continual enhancement is already evident today. An Audi e-tron Sportback 55 quattro (power consumption in kWh/100 km: combined 24.3-21.6 (NEDC); CO2 emissions in g/km: 0; efficiency class: A+) has a range of up to 452 kilometres with a full battery according to the WLTP1), while a Volkswagen ID.4 Pro Performance (power consumption in kWh/100 km: combined 17.5-16.1 (NEDC); CO2 emissions in g/km: 0; efficiency class: A+) can even cover up to 520 kilometres2). Nonetheless, fleet vehicles, in particular, will either need to have more “in the tank” in the future or be able to charge faster.

Gradual improvements
Hope is provided by looking to Braunschweig, Salzgitter and San José in California. Take Braunschweig for example. Batteries are produced here not only for Volkswagen Group Components, but also for the entire Volkswagen Group brand family. In the site’s powerhouse, the advance development team for battery systems is also working on new solutions.

The department is headed by Dr Ingke-Christine Grau. The bioengineer and her team of designers, computational engineers and system developers test how new battery developments respond on given systems. There is a lot to consider here: Is the cooling system sufficient? Are there potential safety vulnerabilities? Can the electronics and control system be adapted? Every measure, no matter how small, is questioned and checked: “This is the only way we can move on to the next logical step in the team and therefore achieve a good result”, explains the developer Grau.
 

Innovative battery systems ensure greater range
As is often the case with research departments, an in-depth insight is quite difficult to gain here too, since ultimately much is bound by secrecy. But if vehicles from Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT and ŠKODA are driving around in a few years with an ultra-slim, cell-to-car battery system, you can be sure that Grau and her employees have tested the technology thoroughly over many months. The individual battery cells will then no longer be bundled like today or integrated in modules, rather they will be installed directly in the vehicle floor, laid bare and as an integrated part of the chassis design. The result: lower costs and weights and increased range.

Salzgitter, in turn, is the chosen home not only of one of six Volkswagen gigafactories for battery production in the future. Work is also ongoing in its Centre of Excellence on further development of the latest lithium-ion technology. “Naturally we are trying to develop a powerful, cost-effective, sustainably produced supercell”, says PhD chemist Tim Dagger as he describes his field of work in the Volkswagen battery research centre.
 

New constituents, new overall concepts
The current lithium-ion cells offer a wealth of optimisation potential, with the technology not exhausted by a long way yet. However, if heavy goods vehicles are to be powered electrically in the future, a different type of cell chemistry is needed. This is also something that Dagger’s colleagues are already working on intensively in Salzgitter.

That just leaves the faraway San José. What is being masterminded here sounds like a similarly far away future. The outlook is rosy however. Described as the “holy grail of battery research” by renowned Karlsruhe university professor and battery expert Maximilian Fichtner, work is ongoing here at the Volkswagen partner QuantumScape on the solid-state battery.
 

Charging times will also shorten
This technology involves replacing the current liquid electrolytes in the cell with inorganic solids. Apart from a longer service life, this technology holds the promise of significantly increased battery capacity for the same battery size. The developers are thus aiming to achieve a 30 to 40 per cent increase in the range. The market launch may be a while longer yet – but a non-stop trip to Copenhagen with an electric car from Hamburg would therefore no longer be beyond the realms of possibility.

To reach Lisbon without a longer break, on the other hand, requires a further significant decrease in charging times. But solid-state batteries give reason for hope here too. According to developers, the new technology will halve the charging time to around ten minutes. Before this possibly, the use of silicon instead of graphite anodes may allow the charging times of the current batteries to be reduced considerably. Porsche, in particular, is pressing ahead with this development and intends to use it to its advantage in the coming years.
 

… and there’s more
Other technologies worthy of mention here include the possible use of sulphur as a cathode, highly promising supercapacitors – and not just because of their name – as well as the especially eco-aware redox flow battery. Visions of the future, clearly, but enough to send the minds of the researchers virtually into overdrive. The “combustion chamber of the future” will therefore definitely not be lacking in fuel ...

 

News on the topic

1)The range was determined on the rolling road test bed according to the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) using the specification variant of the Audi e-tron Sportback 55 quattro most favourable in terms of range, with 86 kWh net battery energy content. The actual WLTP range values may vary depending on the equipment. The actual range achieved under real conditions varies according to driving style, speed, use of convenience features and auxiliary consumers, outside temperature, number of passengers/load and topography.


2)The range was determined on the rolling road test bed according to the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) using the specification variant of the Volkswagen ID.4 Pro Performance most favourable in terms of range, with 77 kWh net battery energy content. The actual WLTP range values may vary depending on the equipment. The actual range achieved under real conditions varies according to driving style, speed, use of convenience features and auxiliary consumers, outside temperature, number of passengers/load and topography.
 

Status: 01. September 2021

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