Powering vehicles with
Powering vehicles with
Electric vehicles require no liquid fuel or oil, rendering them significantly cleaner than gas-powered vehicles. Additional benefits include no fuel costs, less maintenance due to fewer internal components, and potential tax credits. Powered by electrons, these vehicles serve as a stepping stone for many modern advances in vehicles, such as computer-assisted and self-driving cars.
But as the world charges toward an electric vehicle future—a vehicle for every driver—performance and cost challenges remain. Heavy batteries add weight to the vehicle. The lithium-ion materials typically used to manufacture these batteries, and the final products, are still expensive. Driving distance and charging performance continue to need improvement. And at times, combustion and overheating could cause safety concerns.
DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) is addressing these performance, cost, and safety challenges through the expertise and capabilities at its national laboratories. PNNL plays a key role in helping VTO overcome these challenges by investigating and developing materials and chemistries for improved vehicle batteries.
Materials and chemistry research
PNNL leads the Battery500 Consortium, partnering with four fellow national labs, five universities and industry in the core program. In addition, many other institutions and companies join the effort through the 15 seedling projects. The goal: to develop lithium-metal batteries with more than double the specific energy found in today’s electric vehicle batteries, while also producing a high-performance, reliable, safe, less-expensive battery that manufacturers can easily adopt.
PNNL also contributes significantly to DOE’s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, collaborating with four national labs to develop clean energy storage technologies for both vehicles and the grid. Their research aims to reduce barriers like high costs and limited storage capacity to provide more cost-effective power for consumers.
The goals for improved battery performance, cost, and safety grow closer. For example, PNNL and its partners discovered the fundamental reasons for cathode materials to break down, and methods to protect the surface of cathode materials, adding a step that could help batteries last longer and perform better. They also developed a new electrolyte that helps extend the cycling life and extinguish safety concerns like spontaneous combustion or fire.
At PNNL, advances like these rise from facilities for materials and chemistry research and development. To name a few—an Advanced Battery Facility provides the canvas for developing and validating new battery chemistries. The Redox Flow Battery Labs provide space for testing redox flow batteries on the bench and for large-scale demonstrations. At the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, researchers use an environmental transmission electron microscope to evaluate battery structure and function materials, while a scanning transmission electron microscope allows probing of the materials’ microstructure and chemical compositions.
Envision a future where the nation’s highways are dotted with clean, cost-effective electric vehicles, powered by charging stations at homes, employer parking lots, grocery stores, sports stadiums, and malls. The drivers enjoy energy independence with worry-free transportation that keeps the air cleaner and wallets full.