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EV batteries – their makeup, features and future

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EV batteries play a key role in the expansion of electromobility. As part of the energy transition and climate protection, electric vehicles are becoming more prevalent, and in the future will likely make a considerable contribution to reducing carbon emissions in the transportation sector. 

E-mobility and the importance of the e-battery

E-mobility is a major step towards a more environmentally friendly future. The latest figures show that at the end of 2023 more than 169,000 electric cars were registered in Switzerland, accounting for 3.5 percent of the entire automobile market. This figure has been growing constantly in recent years and by 2035, over 2 million EVs will likely be on the road in Switzerland. 

We still have a ways to go before we get to that point, however, and several things need to happen before we can achieve this ambitious goal. Ultimately, EVs need to gain greater acceptance and incentives are needed to convince a larger number of end users to buy electric.

One of the ways to achieve this is through the use of financial and tax advantages. But technology also plays a decisive role, and this primarily involves the batteries for electric vehicles. The battery is the most expensive part of any electric car. 

Everyone is familiar with the batteries in smartphones and other devices and knows that they degrade over time. The battery also determines the car’s range, which is an important factor for many people who use their car on a daily basis and also drive longer distances. And charging a battery takes a lot longer than filling the tank with gas. 

In order to integrate car battery charging into people’s everyday lives so that it’s not a chore and becomes a drawback, batteries need to undergo continual improvement.

These are the EV batteries that are currently available

There are different kinds of batteries that are used for EVs. The most common is the lithium-ion battery. But there are also lithium-polymer batteries and nickel-metal hydride batteries. The batteries differ mainly in their performance, capacity, lifespan and cost.

Lithium-ion batteries have several advantages over other EV batteries. They have a higher energy density, which means that they save more energy for the same size and weight. And this translates into a greater range. Their lifespan is also longer and they can handle a larger number of charging cycles in an electric car before they have to be replaced.

Lithium-polymer batteries use a similar principle, but they are made of a plastic polymer which makes the battery highly flexible. 

Nickel-metal hydride batteries are less prone to overheating, so they are considered to be safer to use. The problem is that they are not able to convey all of the energy to the engine, which significantly limits their efficiency and has prevented their great breakthrough.

Lead-acid batteries are the oldest and simplest type of batteries for electric vehicles. But since they have very low energy density and very little capacity, they’re not well suited to the task.

Due to their high energy density and capacity and long lifespan, lithium-ion batteries are the preferred battery technology for EVs. In the long run, however, solid-state batteries could very well be a viable alternative. The problem is that the technology is not market ready.

The most commonly used batteries are lithium batteries

Electric car batteries have undergone considerable advances in recent years. The lithium-ion technology has become established in the market and is built into most models.

  • Structure: A lithium-ion battery consists of several components. The most important elements are anodes and cathodes, the electrolytes and the separator film. Anodes are generally made of graphite, while cathodes are a mix of lithium compounds such as lithium cobalt oxide or lithium iron phosphate. The electrolyte is a fluid or a gel from an ionic bond which enables the ions to flow between the anodes and cathodes. The separator film is a thin layer placed between the anode and cathode to prevent short circuiting.
  • Operating principle: When the battery is charged, lithium ions move through the electrolytes from the cathode to the anode, where they are saved. When the battery discharges, the lithium ions flow back to the cathode, where they release their electric energy. A battery management system (BMS) monitors and controls the charging and discharging of the battery in order to ensure that it’s working safely and efficiently. The BMS also protects the battery from overcharging and overheating.

E-battery: Capacity, charging time, lifespan

When choosing your EV and a suitable battery, you should focus on three things: The capacity, charging time and lifespan. How efficient are EV batteries?

Capacity and range

The capacity of a battery depends on the model and manufacturer. Most electric cars have a capacity of between 40 and 100 kWh (kilowatt hours). The larger the battery capacity, the greater the range. An EV with a battery capacity of 40 kWh has a range of around 200 kilometers or so, while an EV with a battery capacity of 100 kWh can go for over 600 kilometers. Just as with gas-powered cars, the exact distances vary from model to model. According to the ADAC ecotest, they can fluctuate between 16.7 kWh/100 km and 30.9 kWh/100 km, depending on the manufacturer and car.

And the range of an electric car also depends on other factors, such as the way you drive, the temperature and whether you use the air conditioner or heater. 

Charging time and charging infrastructure

An electric car with a battery capacity of 80 kWh can be charged to 80% in about 30 minutes at a fast charging station. A full charge with direct current cam take up to 90 minutes, however, depending on the charging station. Switzerland has numerous fast charging stations, with more being added all the time. Charging at an AC charging station or with a wallbox at home with DC takes much longer. If you have a home charging station for your EV, you can just charge your car overnight so it’s ready for the next day.

Lifespan and recycling

The lifespan of a battery concerns car buyers for a number of reasons. Over the course of its life, the battery loses capacity and performance. The type of battery, usage and ambient temperature all influence the life of a battery. Depending on the model and manufacturer, a battery warranty can last between eight and ten years. But at some point, performance will start to suffer. After 100,000 km, a battery can no longer be expected to reach 100 percent. Today’s batteries still last a long time, though, and do not need to be replaced every two years as some people think. It’s important to know that slowly charging your battery, mostly at home with alternating current, is much easier on the battery.

Our tip: If you add the “e-mobility battery” service to your electric car insurance, your battery will also be covered. This service covers the repair costs if your battery is damaged due to operating errors or if the charging device malfunctions.

Recycling batteries decreases the amount of waste in landfills and makes it possible to reuse the valuable materials they contain. Not only is this good for the environment, it can also help offset future shortages in raw materials. Modern recycling processes can recover up to 90% of the resources used.

Did you know?

EV batteries have a limited lifespan and gradually lose capacity with constant charging, which is why manufacturers are working on improving batteries and offer a warranty for the life of the battery. Warranties typically cover up to eight years or 160,000 kilometers

Second-hand EVs: Focus on batteries

Buying a second-hand car always involves a certain amount of risk. What condition is the car in and how long will the individual parts last? Electric cars have the added battery concern, whose capacity slowly but surely degrades over time. This shouldn’t stop you from buying a second-hand car, however, because you can find out precisely how much life the battery has left and whether it’s enough for your purposes.  

Ideally, the seller should be able to prove using regular check-ups how healthy the battery is and how much longer it will likely last. If there is no documentation on the state of health of the battery, then you should have it professionally assessed before you buy the car.

Our tip:  As an AXA customer, you can assess the state of your battery affordably and at any time using AVILOO’s battery test box. This way you’ll know your battery’s current state of health.

Carbon footprint of an EV battery

Electric cars are often pitched as the more environmentally friendly alternative to gas-powered vehicles since they produce zero emissions, thereby reducing your carbon footprint. However, manufacturing and disposing of EV batteries does not come without harm to the environment.

Producing EV batteries consumes a large amount of raw materials, which are often mined under poor working conditions, and the mining also expends a great deal of energy. What’s more, the vast quantities of energy needed to make the batteries often comes from burning fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide into the air.

Despite this, studies show that EVs are still a more environmentally friendly alternative to combustion engines. Which type of electricity you choose to charge your battery also makes a difference. If you use the regular electricity mix, you will have to drive 80,000 km before the car is more climate-friendly than a similar diesel model. If you use strictly green electricity, it will only take you 40,000 km.

Batteries pose a challenge to e-mobility

In recent years, electric vehicles have become more popular and have seen steady growth in sales. But batteries still have some challenges they need to overcome:

  • Price: Battery costs account for a considerable share of the total price of an electric car. Although prices have dropped in recent years, prices for the end user are still higher than for combustion cars. When you insure your electric car, you should also consider insuring the battery as well. 
  • Energy density: There are various research projects aimed at increasing the energy density of batteries in order to lower the price. One promising technology is the solid-state battery, which has a higher energy density and a longer lifespan than lithium-ion batteries. Solid-state battery technology is still in its infancy, however.
  • Use of raw materials: The availability and the price of the raw materials used in batteries have an enormous impact on battery production. Most of these raw materials are currently mined in Australia, Chile, China and other countries. Diversifying the sources of raw materials and increasing the amount that is recycled will help to reduce the dependence on certain raw material suppliers.
  • Charging infrastructure: In order to make the mass market for EVs more attractive, the charging structure must be improved. The charging time and range are key factors for people looking to buy an electric car. Setting up fast charging stations along the highways and in cities as well as developing charging technologies with improved capacity will increase the acceptance of EVs among potential customers.
  • Recycling: As the demand for electric cars and the batteries for them grows, so will the amount of batteries that need to be disposed of. Effectively reusing and recycling batteries will make it possible to recover valuable raw materials and improve the carbon balance – and, as a result, reduce the negative impact the batteries have on the environment.

Increasing the life expectancy of batteries: Here’s what you can do

The following tips for EV drivers can extend the life of the battery and ensure that it provides maximum performance even after thousands of kilometers:

  1. Charging electric cars: You should never overcharge or fully discharge the battery because this can shorten its life expectancy. Ideally the battery should always be charged between 20 and 80 percent.
  2. Driving style: A gentler driving style can help reduce the stress on the battery and extend its life.
  3. Extreme temperatures: EV batteries work best in moderate temperatures. Extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, can stress the battery and cause damage over the long term.
  4. Only use fast charging some of the time: Fast charging stations are easy to find now and they let you charge your car much more quickly – often in under an hour. This time saving is very attractive in everyday life, but it shouldn’t be used too often. Slower charging using your wallbox is much better for preserving the health of your battery.
  5. Maintenance: Regular maintenance and inspections of your EV battery enable you to catch potential problems early on and fix them quickly or let your warranty take care of it. 
  6. Use caution in winter: In winter it may seem like your EV is not going the same distance as usual. Low temperatures do have a negative impact on battery performance. But features such as heated seats, for example, also consume a lot of energy. If you are using your wallbox at home, then you should warm up your battery before you start charging so it can charge at a faster speed.

Takeaway: Batteries are the key factor in the success of EVs

Range, charging time, lifespan: Many of the decisive factors in purchasing an EV revolve around the battery. Continued improvements in battery technology have turned EVs into a practical alternative to gas cars. But there are still a number of obstacles to overcome before electric cars become a viable option for the majority of people. The price is just as important as the charging infrastructure. And new technologies such as bidirectional charging are already in the offing. In the long run, EV batteries will making driving more environmentally friendly.

Frequently Asked Questions about EV batteries

How long does the battery in an electric car last?

The lifespan of an EV battery depends on many things, including the type of battery, driving style and maintenance. A typical EV battery can last for up to 200,000 km or more before it needs to be replaced.

How much does an electric car battery cost?

The cost depends on the size of the battery and the type of electric vehicle. A typical EV battery can account for around half of the price of the vehicle, although prices vary depending on manufacturer and model.

How often should you check your EV battery? 

Maintenance for an EV battery depends on the type of battery you have. Lithium-ion batteries, most commonly used in electric cars, normally only need minimal maintenance - but it’s best to have it checked by a professional once a year. 

Replacing an EV battery: what does it cost? 

Depending on the model, the price can be anywhere from CHF 5,000 to 15,000. 

Is there enough lithium on the planet to cover the amount needed for EVs?

Over time, the scarcity of lithium could indeed turn into a potential problem. Ambitious climate goals and the rising needs of e-mobility have pushed up the demand for lithium. New technologies and more efficient recycling of raw materials can at least partly offset this problem.

Is it possible to rent an EV battery?

It used to be possible to rent the more expensive batteries from the manufacturers. This changes the question of cost and assures regular servicing. Today, most manufacturers have moved away from this practice.

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