Note: Powershop is not an electric vehicle manufacturer. We suggest consulting vehicle manufacturers directly for product-specific information.
At the core of the EV, is its battery. The battery dictates how powerful the car is and how far you can travel. This section covers the battery in more detail.
On this page, you'll learn things like:
- How an EV battery works
- Costs involved in EV battery manufacture
- How use affects the lifespan of a typical EV battery
Got an electric vehicle or about to buy one? Ask us about our EV charging rates.
Battery-operated vehicles driving innovation
A 100% electric-powered vehicle is becoming more common. With this, the demand for better, safer and more affordable batteries grows as well.
Electric vehicles use different batteries than the standard car battery that powers lights, radio and ignition, as the power output required to move a heavy road vehicle over extended periods is much higher. These powerful electric vehicle batteries or ‘traction batteries’, are designed to put out high power for their total weight – lighter batteries are desirable to keep total EV weight down.
The industry of electric vehicle batteries has borrowed and benefited from the huge rechargeable battery market borne out of the tech/devices boom over the past 20 years. Laptops, tablets, phones, cameras and other electronics have driven efficiencies and performance increases from battery technology.
The electric vehicle battery is interesting in that the innovation to drive better performance at cheaper cost is moving rapidly. We’ll explore what an EV battery is, how it works and the cost factors involved in producing these units. Read on to learn more.
What is an electric vehicle battery, exactly?
An electric vehicle battery is a pack of cells arranged into modules that hold electric energy to be used when the vehicle performs its mechanical functions such as accelerating. Depending on the manufacturer and battery technology, an electric vehicle battery will be designed in a number of ways, with different battery ‘capacity’, number of cells and shape of battery pack.
The electric vehicle battery’s output, cooling and monitoring functions are controlled through a battery management system, often called a BMS.
The battery in an EV powers the electric motor which turns the wheels (acceleration). This all happens instantaneously, much faster than a combustion engine. That’s why a battery can move an EV off the mark very quickly.
The best thing about a battery running your vehicle? No exhaust pipe with dirty pollutants. The battery will get hot however, and EVs are designed to ensure batteries are kept cool to try to avoid failure or safety risks.
How does the lithium-ion battery work?
The lithium-ion battery is made up of a number of parts:
- Anode (discharging/using power) – stores lithium, releasing ions to the cathode when the battery’s being used, e.g. the car is accelerating.
- Cathode (charging) – stores lithium and releases ions to the anode when the battery is charging up.
- Electrolytes – liquid to carry the ions back and forth
- Separator – allows movement of ions back and forth between anode and cathode but stops electrons travelling through the internals of the battery.
- Electrons – either fed into the battery by charging or generated out of the battery by the anode-to-cathode lithium ion process.
- Negative current collector – collects the electrons produced during charging at the positive end.
- Positive current collector – receives the electrons discharged from the negative current during battery use.
Essentially, the battery internals contain the chemical reaction required to generate the charge and discharge, with an external circuit capturing the resulting electrons and using them to power the vehicle.
Lithium-ion (Li-on) battery technology receives considerable investment given the industries that rely upon it. Your smartphone and laptop are likely lithium-ion powered.
However, when compared with a petrol-powered vehicle, the lithium-ion EVs on average will get less range. We expect this to change with advances made to efficiency and power of Li-ion.
How the battery is manufactured
The battery for an EV comes from raw materials required to assemble cells – this includes carbon, graphite, metal oxide, and lithium salt and electrolyte liquid, gel or polymer. The manufacturing process will depend on the operation, but often cells will be created in a cylindrical shape with the cathode and anode produced as sheets (with a separator in between), then filled with the electrolyte material. These cylindrical cells are linked together to carry the charge and arranged as a ‘module’. Multiple modules will then make up an EV battery ‘pack’.
Perhaps the most well-known EV battery operation is Tesla’s Gigafactory 1 based out of Nevada, USA. This is one of the largest buildings on Earth and produces the batteries required for Tesla’s vehicles.
Costs involved and the industry mission to bring these down
The cost of lithium-ion batteries has been steadily dropping as the economies of scale come into play. The EV market along with the ever-growing demand for smartphones and devices has seen more manufacturing operations in Asia, as well as Europe and the USA.
According to Bloomberg, the cost of Lithium-ion battery packs has gone from an average of $1,160 USD per kilowatt hour in 2010 to just $176 in 2018. Expectations are for this to go under $100 in the next few years.
The raw materials to create EV batteries however, may not come down in price. The EV revolution will likely need to rely on more cost-effective manufacturing and transport costs to get more people behind the wheel.
EV battery safety
As with any battery technology, dealing with high amounts of energy in a concentrated mass can give people pause. In the decades leading up to modern day lithium-ion batteries, instances of battery explosion or melting have forced the battery industry to refine the technology.
This is not to say lithium-ion batteries are 100% safe all of the time. The heat generated by these cells combined with other component issues has led to issues – particularly in the field of laptops and smartphones where a number of well-publicised recalls have occurred.
Compared with many other battery types, though, the lithium-ion battery found in most mainstream EVs is fairly safe and environmentally friendly. In fact, during a car crash in a battery-powered electric vehicle the passengers are at far less risk of fire or explosion than they would be in a fuel-based vehicle.
We recommend checking with the manufacturer of your EV around safety precautions and battery maintenance guidelines. If you buy a secondhand vehicle do the regular checks around its history – if it has been in a crash, you’ll want to know it’s both road-fit and the battery or its housing is not compromised.
EV batteries do wear over time
One of the main considerations you’ll want to think about when choosing an EV over a regular vehicle is the fact that batteries do wear out. If you buy an EV from new, you’ll observe the battery capacity decreasing after the first five years of ownership. But the way the car is driven and charged will also have a hand in how quickly the battery is depleted.
For example, if you constantly fast-charge your vehicle, and do this every day regardless of whether a full charge is needed, you can expect to wear the battery out much faster than only charging when needed. More on charging your EV here or ask us about our EV charging rates.
If you’re buying second hand, understanding the state of the battery’s health is absolutely essential – more so than the odometer. Make sure that you can get this information when checking the vehicle out – most EVs will have this available from the car either directly from the dash panel or through a mobile app. If you’re unsure, we’d suggest getting it checked out by a qualified EV specialist who can test this for you.
EV batteries vary in their capacity and lifespan depending on manufacturer and model. As part of your research, you should find out the replacement cost of the battery and work this into your long-term maintenance cost budget. How many times will you need to change the battery over the course of your ownership?
Your annual servicing of the vehicle is a good time to ask about the battery health – just make sure you go to a provider who specialises in EVs.
What about the environment?
Batteries, for good reason, are under the microscope when it comes to recycling. The classic lead-acid battery will be broken up and have lead and plastic both recycled separately. But the lithium ion batteries found in EVs are more complicated. There is technology that exists to recycle lithium-ion batteries which involves either shredding or freezing to recycle the metals. The industry as a whole is still working out the best way to recycle the EV variant of lithium-ion at scale.
As this recycling question is being worked through (and the issue will need to be resolved ahead of mass global adoption), the next stage of an EV battery’s life after powering a vehicle is now typically in a ‘second life’. The reality is that an EV’s capacity is still about 70% once it becomes unsustainable for a vehicle. This is still plenty powerful enough to store energy generated by solar panels or power smaller appliances like fridges.
Many manufacturers are looking to this second-life option, although the likes of Tesla are still focusing on recovering used batteries to recycle.
Even when you add in the battery manufacture, emissions, transport and the electric vehicle’s production entirely, an EV is generally considered to be less harmful on the environment than a combustion engine vehicle.