Polls show four key obstacles standing between car buyers and electric vehicles (EVs).
According to a Morning Consult poll released last February, the median price consumers would pay for an EV is $25,000, about the price of a very basic 2021 Toyota Camry.
The average sticker price of a new vehicle in the U.S. is $40,000, Morning Consult reported, with starter-level EVs typically priced around $30,000.
Price is the first obstacle, but why aren’t consumers willing to invest as much in an electric vehicle as in a gas buggy? 
The ride would be quieter and smog—and stink—free, with no exhaust gases; the cost of ownership has been shown to be vastly cheaper over time, due to EVs’ very few moving parts, saving both cost and time spent sitting in the repair shop’s waiting room; and buying an EV takes us one more step away from the troubles of a fossil fuel economy, from oil slicks on waterways to U.S. troops dying in the Middle East.
The answer: range, difficulty in finding places to charge, and the time charging takes. Range—how far a vehicle can travel before it needs its battery pack “refilled”—was the main concern drivers expressed in a poll J.D. Powers conducted last January for Forbes.
The average range of an electric vehicle today is about 250 miles per charge, from the $169,000 Lucid Air’s 520 miles to the all-electric Mini Cooper’s 150. 
The average U.S. driver puts fewer than 30 miles a day on his or her car, several studies have shown.
Therefore, “range anxiety”—the fear of running out of juice on your way back from work or being stranded between charging stations—is justified only on long trips.
The problem of range anxiety isn’t a technical one but is about “owners’ piece of mind,” according to Brent Gruber, senior director of J.D. Powers’ automotive division.
Putting car buyers’ anxieties about range to rest depends on three factors: building a better battery, installing more charging stations, and making charging as quick as putting 10 gallons in your gas tank.
We look at how those challenges are being met, and when they will be.
In Search Of A Better Battery
Batteries for electric vehicles are just big versions of the lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones and notebook computers.
Lithium is the metal of choice for batteries because it can store more electric charge in the same space than any other metal.
That’s good as far as it goes, but lithium-ion batteries are plagued with troubles ranging from chemical degradation of their graphite anode terminals to a tendency to catch fire.
But there are new, and likely better, battery technologies out there, some already making their way, if modestly, into the market.
Battery start-up Sila has replaced lithium batteries’ graphite anode—where electrons are stored—with nano-engineered silicon powder, which packs more lithium atoms into a smaller space, boosting lithium-ion batteries’ power per charge by as much as 20 percent.
Increasing an EV’s power by 20 percent would increase its range on a single charge from 250 miles to 300, pretty close to the range a mid-size gasoline-powered car can travel on a full tank.
Sila has partnered with an unnamed automaker and expects its innovation to be in EVs within five years.
Like silicon, magnesium can store more energy than graphite—as much as five times more, according to the U.S. energy department, meaning magnesium promises more energy in less space, adding range while cutting batteries’ cost to consumers.
Also, magnesium batteries can charge and discharge quickly, even in freezing weather, cutting charge times while also giving cars more power when needed to pass a semi on a country road.
Here’s the “but”: magnesium batteries can degrade quickly and have shown other performance problems, including inefficiencies.
Now researchers at Japan’s Tohoku University have improved that performance quite a bit by creating a battery cathode—the positive terminal—from a sulfur-sulfide mixture.
Still, that improvement isn’t enough to make a commercial magnesium battery yet and the U.S. energy department, among others, continues to fund research.
Chinese EV maker GAC is boasting an 8-minute charge time to restore 80 percent of a battery pack’s energy, a battery life of 600,000 miles, and a range of about 600 miles for its Aion V 6C SUV. 
The company’s giddy optimism arises from a new battery design that swaps out the graphite in a lithium-ion battery for graphene.
Graphite usually exists as a solid mass; graphene is a layer of graphite exactly one atom thick. Layers of graphene allow a greater surface area to take a charge. However, graphene batteries in the past couldn’t hold much power. Now, not only GAC claims to have solved that problem.
Los Angeles-based NanoTech Energy says its newest graphene battery can store up to 18 times more energy than conventional lithium-ion systems and can be recharged in the same amount of time that it takes to fill a conventional car’s gas tank.
The company has made public few details of its technology but has won an endorsement from Andreas Hintennach, Daimler’s chief of battery research, who said of NanoTech’s innovation, “Now, for the first time, we have access to extremely safe chemistry that provides high performance and we are very pleased.”
Solid state
Most new battery designs are variations on the same template: positive and negative terminals are bathed in a liquid or paste-like electrolyte and send lithium ions through a barrier that separates the two. An electrical contact brings power into the cathode to charge the battery; another electrical contact takes electrons out of the anode when power is called for.
QuantumScape decided that it could make batteries smaller and cheaper if it simply did away with the negative graphite terminal as well as the liquid-like electrode.
Instead, the company’s new battery sends lithium ions through the separation barrier to be stored as pure lithium, with the usual electrical contact to draw out power.
The architecture allows for a smaller battery that stores more power in a smaller space, boosting range and slashing costs while also extending battery life.
The design could take an EV’s range per charge from, say, 200 miles now to 350 miles, the company claims.
Volkswagen has sunk $300 million into QuantumScape, who has partnered with the automaker to bring its batteries to the road, as we reported in “New Battery Could Double EV Range, Slash Charging Times” (15 Dec 2020).
BMW and Ford have invested in Colorado-based Solid Power, which is perfecting a solid-state electrolyte that, it says, can pack in more power, extend energy life, cut batteries’ cost, and eliminate the risk of fire.
Ford and BMW plan to test the batteries next year and have them in their production-line EVs in 2025.
TRENDPOST: The evolution of EV batteries will mirror the development of computer chips: capacities and efficiencies will relentlessly accumulate year by year for at least the next two decades.
By 2030, new battery technologies now in development will increase EVs’ range by 25 to 50 percent and cut retail EV prices by at least 15 to 20 percent.
Charging: EVs’ Chicken-And-Egg Problem
There are about 150,000 gas stations in the U.S., according to the American Petroleum Institute.
As we reported in “Gas Station Owners Skeptical of EV Boom” (17 Aug 2021), virtually none think it makes financial sense to invest the thousands of dollars required to install an electric car charging station.
They’re right. Most EV drivers won’t need to “top their tank” in their jaunts around town; most can plug in at home two or three times a week and not need to think about fueling again.
That’s why most of the 43,000 EV chargers scattered around the U.S. are at tourist islands along the interstate, the occasional motel, and places where people are apt to spend an hour or more, such as medical centers and shopping malls.
But we’re creatures of the Oil Age, when we can always drop into a gas station, top off the tank for the weekend, and not worry about running out of fuel on the way to the beach or the in-laws’.
Auto makers and president Joe Biden want to bring that peace of mind to the EV market.
General Motors, which has promised to make only zero-emissions vehicles by 2035, has taken a key step to making its promise practical.
The company has partnered with seven companies that make electric-vehicle charging stations to set up 60,000 charging locations “no matter where” GM’s customers go in the U.S., it said in announcing the venture, which we reported in “GM Joins Partnership For EV Charging Stations Nationwide” (11 May 2021). 
The partnership’s app, Ultium Charge 360, lets customers find the closest charging stations, see which are in use, then connect to a station of choice and pay the charging fee through the app.
Ford’s FordPass app connects EV drivers to its growing network of more than 13,500 charging stations and offers a trip planner routing travelers along corridors of well-placed charging stops.
Volkswagen’s “Electrify America” project has planned about 800 charging stations, which will offer 3,500 high-speed chargers, spread across 45 U.S. states by the end of this year and is working with Citi to find investors, according to Reuters. 
Fourteen electric utilities spread from Maine into Texas have formed the Electric Highway Coalition that will build charging stations at intervals of no more than 100 miles.
Utilities across the country are building local charging networks, as are Los Angeles, New York, and other cities.
Even the oil majors are acknowledging the coming change.
In 2017, Royal Dutch Shell bought NewMotion, Europe’s largest EV charging network with more than 30,000 stations and is a partner with BMW, Ford, Mercedes, and Volkswagen in Ionity, a project to lay a seamless web of charging stations across Europe.
Earlier this year, Shell bought ubitricity, a company that integrates EV chargers into lamp posts and other street-side structures to make chargers available to urban apartment dwellers.
Shell also has installed charging kiosks at many of its gas stations in the U.K., has announced it will begin installing charging kiosks at 100 supermarkets across Britain, and plans to install 50,000 on-street charging stops in the kingdom through 2025.
In 2018, Shell rival BP purchased Chargemaster, Britain’s largest charging network. It also has put money into FreeWire Technologies, which makes fast EV chargers, and StoreDot, a battery developer in Israel. Currently, BP is opening a chain of BP-brand charging stations in the U.K.
In the U.S., Chevron has begun placing charging kiosks in several of its gas stations, especially in major urban areas where U.S. EV ownership is concentrated.
Biden’s infrastructure plan hopes to accelerate that momentum: he’s proposed spending $7.5 billion to plant 550,000 charging stations across the U.S., a number in support of his call for half of all new cars made in the U.S. in 2030 to be all-electric.
With Fiat, General Motors, and Volkswagen announcing they’re bowing out of the fossil-fuel vehicle business, and with Ford and other makers moving in that direction, the networks are critical to public acceptance of this sea change in personal transportation.
“EV charging infrastructure is the single biggest barrier to EV adoption,” analyst Assad Hussain at research firm PitchBook, told The New York Times.
“You talk to anyone who’s on the fence about buying an EV and the Number 1 concern is range anxiety.”
As a result, in 2020 almost $1 billion of venture capital flowed into companies making chargers, Pitchbook found; by the middle of this month, 2021’s total was $550 million.
EVgo, one of the largest charging companies, became publicly traded in July through a deal with a special-purpose acquisition company; Volta, another charging mainstay, went public in August. Volta touts its “fast chargers,” a class of chargers that can add as much as 200 miles of range in 15 minutes.
That’s fine if you have things to do in the meantime.
However, most drivers don’t plan their fuel stops around their activities but do it the other way around.
For them, new battery technologies are likely to make that possible.
As noted previously in this report, Los Angeles-based NanoTech Energy says its newest graphene battery can be recharged in the same amount of time that it takes to fill a conventional car’s gas tank.
Also, researchers at Harvard University’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science claim to have developed a new lithium-ion battery that can accept a charge quickly enough to give power for a few dozen miles—a typical day’s worth of driving for most cars—in the time it now takes to fill a car’s gas tank.
Private equity firm Energy Impact Partners has bought into a number of charging networks and apps, a charging station repair venture, and an app that optimizes charging.
Cassie Bowe, a principal at the firm, said that with electric vehicle sales projected to grow faster as the decade progresses, “there’s no more time,” she told the NYT. “We need this infrastructure fast.”
TREND FORECAST: The U.S. will have 4.7 million EVs on the road in 2028, making up 37 percent of new-car sales, according to EVAdoption, compared with about 526,00 in use now.
To serve that market, automakers will continue to roll out wider and wider networks of charging spots to entice people to buy their EVs; utilities will focus on building charging kiosks within their service areas to capture growing sales in the future.
Between the two, charging stations will expand faster than EV sales; however, the visibility of more and more chargers will persuade more people to make the leap to EVs, especially as costs edge down because production is edging up. (Range anxiety, the fear of being stuck far away from a charger, is the primary barrier keeping people from considering buying an EV, several surveys have shown.)

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