While mass electric vehicle adoption used to be a dream decades ago, electric mobility is advancing at a rapid clip. According to the 2019 Global EV Outlook from the International Energy Agency (“IEA”), the global electric car fleet equalled 5.1 million in 2018, which is a stunning 64.5 percent increase from the prior year (approximately 3.1 million). Even more encouraging, 2018 almost saw a doubling in the number of new electric car sales. Consumers all across the world—most notably in China, Europe, the United States—are embracing an increasingly electrified world.
Ultimately, however, progress toward a world of electric vehicles does not happen by chance or accident. Everyone from the solo entrepreneur in his/her garage to the largest original equipment manufacturers (“OEMs”) in the auto industry is working to advance the underlying technology that powers electric vehicles. Not only does this work involve long hours and perseverance, but it often requires significant investment—sometimes in the billions of dollars. It is also extremely competitive, as large companies with significant resources—like Tesla, BYD, and the Volkswagen Group—are jockeying for position in this new, compelling market.
Notwithstanding these obstacles, there are some exciting developments in the technologies that power electric vehicles. Everything from the underlying batteries powering electric vehicles to the roadside ecosystem to charge electric vehicles is undergoing an exciting period of transformation. Whether you have an electric vehicle, are thinking of purchasing one in the future, or are simply interested in the proliferation of electric vehicles, it is absolutely worth paying attention to these recent developments.
Recent Innovations in Electric Vehicle Technologies
To begin, it is worth looking at the batteries that power electric vehicles. To state the obvious, batteries are one of the most important components of electric vehicles, as they directly govern how far an electric vehicle can travel. While several auto companies (like Tesla) have significantly increased the range of electric vehicles, several companies are searching for ways to expand battery capacity even further. As just one example, a Swiss startup called Innolith claims to have created the world’s first 1,000 watt-hour per-kilogram (“Wh/kg”) rechargeable battery. With that battery capacity, an electric vehicle would be able to travel approximately 1,000 kilometres on one charge, which is significantly greater than current capabilities.
Another exciting development on the battery front involves solid-state batteries. While they aren’t exactly a brand new technology, OEMs like Enovate claim that they have incorporated solid-state batteries into future electric vehicles (specifically, an electric SUV to be released in 2021). Not only do solid-state batteries offer greatly reduced charge times and higher energy density in the battery, but they are much safer than current battery technology (known as “wet batteries.”).
Along with these exciting battery advancements, we are also seeing innovations in inverters and DC-DC converters. These are several key components of an electric vehicle’s powertrain. Inverters convert DC current from the battery to the three-phase AC current required by an electric motor, while DC-DC converters convert high voltage generated by an electric vehicle’s motor to typical battery voltage. As for inverters, companies like NXP Semiconductors, for instance, are creating innovative power control reference platforms for electric vehicle traction motor inverters. Companies like Keysight Technologies are also innovating on the DC-DC converter front, eliminating some of the safety issues that occur when testing converters. While they may not get as much attention as battery innovations, further innovations in inverters and DC-DC converters are critical to the future proliferation of electric vehicles.
Finally, there are promising innovations in the roadside ecosystem for electric vehicles. While companies like Tesla are building modern charging networks, companies are conducting cutting-edge research to make charging easier and faster. For instance, Volkswagen recently revealed a new mobile charging station concept. The quick-charging battery station can hold approximately 360 kilowatts and the station, on average, can charge vehicles within 17 minutes. This is just one example, but the fact remains that companies—and even large nation-states like China—are investing significant sums to improve charging stations for electric vehicles.
An Exciting Future
These are just some of the many innovations occurring within the electric vehicle industry. Many more will occur, whether they are in these areas or in unanticipated areas. Wherever they occur, however, all signs point to an exciting future for electric vehicles.
We can’t wait to see what happens next.