Why Batteries Are Not the Future

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Why Batteries Are Not the Future

The announcement in April by Tesla Motors that more than 325,000 people had deposited $1,000 each for its new Model 3 suggests that consumer demand for battery-powered electric cars is growing. As The New York Times reported, last year Tesla sold only 50,000 of its current electric vehicles, the Model S and Model X.1

Unfortunately for the Model 3 buyers, their quest to own “the next new thing,” could quickly sour into the realization that they’re stuck with “the last old thing” when a superior technology comes along.

That’s precisely what the Trends editors anticipate will happen when fuel cell technology bursts onto the market in the next few years.

According to Business Insider, sales figures from Motor Intelligence and Inside EVs reveal that Americans bought less than 114,000 electric vehicles (EVs) in 2015. That’s just 1.4 percent of the car market, and it’s a smaller share than in 2014.2

The number isn’t likely to jump in 2016 either, because the Tesla 3 won’t be manufactured until next year. Even if all 325,000 of the customers who paid a deposit for the car actually take delivery in 2017, tripling the size of the EV market would only increase it to 4.2 percent.

Why hasn’t the market for EVs grown faster? Electric cars are severely limited by several drawbacks, including:

  • A shortage of charging stations.
  • High electricity costs.
  • Disappointing battery capacity that limits the distance the cars can be driven between charges.
  • Painfully long charging times. (According to the pro-EV organization Plug In America, “To recharge a completely empty car battery from an ordinary 120-volt socket, the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid would need ten hours and the Nissan Leaf EV would need twenty hours. Using a faster 240-volt outlet and a charging station, the Volt recharges in about four hours and the Leaf in eight hours.”)

Meanwhile, researchers have made significant progress in perfecting fuel cell technology.

According to Merten Jung, who leads the fuel cell program at BMW, which also makes plug-in electric cars, “[A] fuel cell drivetrain combines zero-emissions mobility with the fast refueling time that’s needed for long-distance driving. Moving forward, electric vehicles will have longer ranges thanks to advances in battery technology, but the refueling time won’t be competitive with that of a hydrogen-powered model. It takes about three to five minutes to top up a hydrogen tank, and then you’re set to go.”3 To repeat: That’s three to five minutes, compared to four to twenty hours...

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