As opposed to automobiles and buses fueled by combustion engines, electric vehicles (EVs) are typically powered by lithium-ion batteries. Due to their high power-to-weight ratio, lithium-ion batteries can concentrate greater energy at lighter weights, making long-distance transportation a reality.
Breakthroughs in lithium-ion batteries enabled EVs to have enough power to propel them forward on roads without a battery whose weight and volume were too large to fit a standard-sized automobile.
By relying on battery power, EVs are becoming a more sustainable transportation option compared to petroleum-based energy sources. As efforts to counteract climate change and global warming amplify, EVs are expected to proliferate on the market, transforming many industries and aspects of society. Expect massive restructurings of social and economic activities.
But how long do EV batteries last and how long do they stay charged?
The Lifetime of EV Batteries
In the same spirit of renewability that inspires their use, consumers want to know how long EV batteries will last before they must be replaced. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), EV batteries usually perform for between 10 to 15 years, depending on climate and how they’re maintained.
Perhaps even more important to consumers is how long EV batteries remain charged while in use. Known as 'range anxiety,' consumers worry they’ll be left stranded between recharge stations while driving their EVs. Per a 2019 guide published by the DOE, an all-electric vehicle (AVE) can travel up to 370 miles on a single charge, which is 320 fewer miles than a hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV). However, an AVE only contributes 1.8-3.5 metric tons of greenhouse gasses per year, while an HEV ranges from 2.8-9.0 metric tons per year.
Furthermore, conditions, factors, and advancements impact how long an EV battery lasts.
Conditions That Weaken Battery Range
Naturally, the length an EV battery stays charged depends on a variety of conditions. What’s true regarding fuel economy with petroleum-based vehicles generally holds true for EVs.
Here are a few conditions that undermine EV battery range:
- Aggressive driving, such as rapid acceleration or braking
- Driving on hills or mountainous terrain
- Improperly inflated tires or other out-of-tune automotive parts
- Cold weather
- Idling or unnecessary accelerating and braking in traffic
- Use of snow tires or chains
Recent Advancements in EV Battery Technology
Neoteric developments and new technologies have extended the life and charge range of EV batteries and made an EV future more possible.
For instance, some industry leaders are turning to modular batteries. Each part of a battery, including anodes, cathodes, fuses, and the cooling system, has a different lifespan. If one part breaks, the rest of the battery fails. By going modular, EV batteries can have components repaired or replaced, facilitating longer life.
In 2021, by grafting silicon nanowires onto commercial graphite powders, a battery science company had increased battery range while shrinking charge time and cost. In doing this, the company claims they’ve tripled the anode specific capacity, opening new possibilities for EV batteries.
To quicken the recharging process, another industry leader utilizes batteries that contain a selection of small, string-like, autonomous cells. These cells can quickly form contact with others by utilizing a plastic, conductive material. An internal processing unit then manages connections in the electrochemical cell. Then to enable rapid recharge, small balls from within the battery are removed and replaced by already energized ones at the station, which are then refreshed during non-peak driving hours.
And in tandem with battery technologies are advancements in battery testing technology, such as higher amperage rates, which are required for more powerful EV batteries. With chambers capable of testing up to 1000-amp batteries, large format prismatic battery cells (LFPs) with longer-lasting charge can be employed in EVs.
Factors That Shorten an EV Battery’s Life
How you charge an EV battery plays a significant role in how long it lasts. One should avoid recharging it overnight. Each time a battery is recharged, it experiences added stress, expediting the rate at which it degrades. By reenergizing only when necessary, its life can be extended.
Notably, the lithium-ion batteries used in EVs are intended to store large quantities of energy, with a charge that ebbs and flows. If you drain the battery too low or routinely charge it to full capacity, its life will also be shortened. Thus, it’s best to keep it charged between 20 to 80 percent.
Some Challenges for EV Batteries
Barriers for EV batteries diminish but some remain. Foremost among them is cost, which hinders the widespread adoption of EVs. Even if consumers save money when calculating the cost per mile, which Kelley Blue Book (KBB) estimates is at least half the monthly cost of a gas-fueled vehicle, the upfront price tag for an EV is relatively high. Per an April 2021 report from KBB, the average transaction price for an EV is $51, 532.
As you might expect, vehicle size also limits the adoption of EVs, specifically for SUVs, busses, and larger trucks. The increased size and weight of the vehicles require more battery power, resulting in a larger battery, creating a vicious tension, and a shortened range. For instance, an industry leader in EV trucks offers a standard-range model that can travel 230 miles, roughly a hundred miles less than an EV sedan.
Ultimately, it comes down to the power-to-weight ratio, which will require extensive research and development in EV batteries made possible by sophisticated battery testing.
In pursuit of lighter, longer-lasting, faster-charging batteries, companies rely on environmental test chambers to support testing research. Organizations will use temperature and humidity testing to identify how well new battery structures withstand extreme changes in temperature or climate. They also utilize HALT and HASS testing to determine reliability and durability regarding corrosion and vibrations.
So while EV batteries currently retain a charge for up to a few hundred miles and perform for 10 to 15 years, innovators are enthusiastic about the ability battery test chambers have to help further extend both the range and lifespan of EV batteries.