The Road-Race to Electrification

By: Jacob Votava

The date is July 29th, 2016, Tesla Motors has just opened its first Gigafactory. In conjunction with Panasonic it will be producing batteries for its newest lineup of electric vehicles, made up of lithium-ion batteries rated at 60, 75, 90, or 100kWh. Despite Tesla’s recent focus on the powertrain of their cars, I believe it is more important to pay attention to their battery development. Sparks fly inside the already strained Tesla-Panasonic relationship, with CEO Elon Musk going onto twitter to criticize Panasonic for the delay of Tesla’s Model 3, the groundworks are being laid for more efficient, environmentally friendly, and easier to charge graphene batteries. The electrification of personal transport is essential to bringing electrification into the mainstream, and Tesla is driving the movement. Some of the loudest critics of EV’s have cited slow charging times and range anxiety, and the creation of graphene batteries seems to be the solution to this problem. Graphene’s chemical structure, made of carbon atoms arranged in tightly bound hexagonal, “honeycomb” layers, just one atom thick, provides stellar electric conductivity, high strength, and high flexibility. This could allow for people to charge their EV in minutes, and have up to 60% higher capacity. Currently, graphene batteries are in development and still expensive, however, as the technology advances li-ion-graphene composite batteries can be used to enhance battery design. It seems as though graphene enhanced technology in batteries is the ideal solution to many of the problems the EV industry currently faces, and it will likely be one of the initial birthplaces of this revolutionary technology that will have profound impacts on energy capacity and storage. Energy storage is one of the large technological problems facing the electrification movement, many easy to access green sources of electricity, such as wind and solar are intermittent. Both of these have some disadvantages, and the technology still has a lot of room for advancement to be completely carbon free. However, storing produced energy has been done by means such as pumping large sums of water around Li-ion batteries, finding the proper amount of water and the degradation of Li-ion batteries are some of the major issues that face energy storage. Many industries often create market-bending technology on accident or for different purposes, a prime example of this is GPS and the internet, which were primarily for the military and academia, but are ubiquitous today, I believe graphene batteries will follow a similar trend.

The first prototype of the internet was created in the 1960s for academic use, it was called the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, or ARPANET. Some of the key principles of why the internet was created was to enable communication between scientists in the rigorous hard-science fields, as well as to assist government and defense agencies. After a while it moved into an industrial setting. This can partially mirror the rise of Tesla/other EV companies and possible development for graphene batteries. Similarly, GPS has its origins tied to academia, defense, and private industry. Much like the 1960s internet, graphene batteries are expensive and inefficient with only a narrow use. Currently there is some academic and private interest in these cells, and as the government realizes the need for efficient and quick government storage, it will quickly get involved, catalyzing the movement towards graphene storage.

In conclusion, I think the technological push from the EV industry and government will encourage academia and private researchers to innovate better electric storage in the form of graphene batteries. Graphene batteries are the perfect solution to many of the problems that plague EVs today. This will revolutionize electric vehicles, personal electronics, solar energy, and many more industries. In the process it will speed up electrification and make it more technologically feasible to move towards complete electrification of society. 

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