By Aidan O’Leary
A version of this article originally appeared in the July issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.
(BRAIN) — Super light. Ten minute charging time. Double the range. Less likely to burn down your store. If I could promise you all of this in an e-bike battery, how fast would you place an order?
Recent developments in battery compositions and management systems promise huge improvements over the current industry standard, lithium-ion. And while some of the developments will take years to reach the e-bike market, some are almost there. We’ve reached out to researchers, e-bike brand owners, and battery experts to find out what’s to come.
To get a sense of the key parameters of e-bike batteries, BRAIN spoke with Ravi Kempaiah, co-founder of Zen Ebikes and postdoctoral fellow at Dalhousie University’s Dahn Lab in Nova Scotia. Kempaiah, in collaboration with Dahn Lab and Tesla, recently debuted a new battery composition that has better energy density and charge time than lithium-ion, while approaching a theoretical longevity of 100 years. . Kempaiah hopes to bring this new battery technology to Zen Ebikes next year.
“All you need is a fire to destroy your reputation, so safety is number one,” Kempaiah said. He said strict standards such as UL certification will increase safety and the perception of safety, and therefore consumer confidence.
Kempaiah has also focused on longevity, which is the key to sustainability. “This year, 2022, 40 million e-bikes will be sold. At our current rate of battery life, 2-3 years on average, by 2024, 2025, the world faces 120 million kilograms of hazardous battery waste. . If it’s not recycled well or has to go through complex recycling, then the whole idea of sustainability goes away.”
Kempaiah’s third key measurement is energy density. Unless new technologies are able to put more energy into an equivalent space, tomorrow’s batteries will be forced to weigh more or provide less range.
Finally, price is always key. Kempaiah said he was aiming for an ideal of $500/Kwh for the end user. A Bosch battery system currently costs around $1,550/Kwh.
As Zen Ebikes researches new materials, Kempaiah emphasized that e-bike battery transformation must be system-wide. Even the best battery chemistries depend on safe and effective management systems.
For other companies, like ZapBatt and its founder, Charlie Welch, advancements in battery management systems have opened the door to better use of older battery compositions.
ZapBatt aims to bring its first product, a lithium-titanate battery, to market in the first quarter of 2023. The e-bike industry hasn’t seen an LTO battery since the Schwinn Tailwind in 2008, but Welch said the potential of LTO can be released thanks to new management systems. Their proprietary system will allow their battery to be matched to a variety of motors with different voltages.
LTO battery cells promise ultra-fast charge times and longevity (up to 15,000 charge cycles according to the International Electrotechnical Commission), but energy density and cost are always factors. ZapBatt’s initial offering will be a 360 Wh battery, weighing 9.5 pounds.
According to these specs, ZapBatt’s battery has a lower capacity and heavier weight than current lithium-ion offerings. And, the company estimates the packs will cost around $1,200 to $1,600 per 500 Wh. However, there are other measures. Welch said ZapBatt batteries will provide greater value over time due to their longevity and efficiency.
When I asked Bosch USA quality and compliance manager Kunal Kapoor what battery advancement he was most looking forward to seeing in 5-10 years, he didn’t miss a beat: “Batteries semiconductors seem really interesting. They’re safer, they’re more powerful.” A popular cutting edge of battery technology, solid-state batteries replace the highly volatile and flammable liquid electrolytes that allow electrical current to flow between the positively and negatively charged parts of the battery. battery by a solid electrolyte. This advancement promises higher energy density, faster charge times and greater longevity, while increasing safety. “If we use 50 cells in our battery today, if we moving on to solid-state batteries, we may only have seven or 10 cells. That means smaller batteries with longer range,” Kapoor said.
The dawn of this new battery technology is surely dawning as tech giants like Samsung pour their money and energy into it. They recently announced a breakthrough in their battery efforts, submitting a paper to Nature Energy demonstrating an all-solid-state battery that achieved a 50% weight reduction over lithium-ion batteries, with a energy density of 900 Wh/L. This level of sophistication would override all current measurements in the e-bike industry and allow for the widespread proliferation of cheap, long-lasting, high-performance battery systems.
While Kempaiah is also excited about solid-state technology, he has a more tempered view of his prospects: minus 2028.” Although scientific progress is undoubtedly essential to the development of battery technology, there is a long distance to travel between the laboratory and the road.
A moment of gratitude
The batteries of the future are becoming less elusive, but in the meantime, it’s worth celebrating what we have now. “I don’t think it’s already very far from ideal,” Kapoor joked. “Bosch has the 625 watt-hour and 700 watt-hour batteries. For a daily commute? I mean, we think that’s enough. And if someone has extra range needs, they can always carry a extra battery… But we think the technology is quite mature and being used sensibly and productively today.”
There are certainly sustainability concerns with our current batteries, but the e-bike industry has quickly rallied to the cause as major bike brands engage in recycling programs like Call2Recycle. Longer life is a great added value for any battery system, but we can manage our e-waste effectively if we plan for it. While there are of course battery failures before that time, Kapoor noted that “you know, (longevity) is very subjective. How long can a battery be expected to last? .. Bosch Generation 1 batteries, which were introduced a little over 10 years ago now, consumers are still using them, so 10 years, in my opinion, is already a very long time for a battery to be able to last.”
The good news is that tomorrow’s battery developments will only strengthen an already efficient system. We can expect significant advancements in the industry over the next year, but e-bikes are already creating a sustainable, efficient and safe transportation alternative. “Interesting fact: 130 e-bike battery packs equals one EV (electric vehicle) battery pack,” Kapoor said. When we honestly assess the state of the e-bike battery, it is clear that we are already living in a futuristic time for our industry.