This week’s big news is that California is looking at how it can join China, France, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom in the banning of internal combustion engines in the coming decade(s), a move that will surely be a shot in the arm for electric vehicles.
While the social and political pressures are coming into alignment for electric cars, trucks, and motorcycles, the technology for these next-generation vehicles is still not fully baked, and the biggest rate-limiter for EVs are their batteries.
That is about to change, however, with solid-state batteries (a battery that has both solid electrodes and solid electrolytes) looking like the silver bullet that could make electric vehicles comparable in performance and price to their internal combustion counterparts.
This is because solid-state batteries offer higher energy density (2x-3x), faster recharge times, better heat management, more safety (wont catch on fire), and cheaper costs than today’s current crop of cutting-edge lithium-ion batteries.
In short, solid-state batteries are poised to be a game-changer for electric vehicles, and address all the major issues EV companies (especially electric motorcycle companies) are dealing with in their vehicle designs.
There is a catch, of course. The current state of solid-state batteries (there is a pun in there somewhere, I’m sure) means that the technology only works right now for low-energy applications, as it is difficult to move current between two solid interfaces, but several groups have been working on making solid-state batteries usable in high-energy applications, like electric vehicles.
Toyota says that it will have solid-state batteries for its electric cars by 2020. Tesla promises a similar breakthrough in battery technology, likely hinting at solid-state batteries. BMW could be using the technology by 2026, and the list goes on.
Even Dyson, the British company known better for its vacuum cleaners, is getting in on the electric vehicle game, announcing that it will make an electric car by 2020, after it acquired battery startup Sakti3, which as you guessed is knee-deep in solid-state battery technology.
While mainstream news will talk about what this means for electric automobile manufacturers, solid-state batteries will be an even bigger boon for the electric motorcycle makers.
This is because motorcycles don’t have the benefit of having a large chassis that can accommodate a large volume of batteries. Physical volume and weight are huge concerns for electric motorcycle manufacturers, whereas they are of lesser concern for electric automobile makers.
As such, motorcycle OEMs face the challenged of having to cram the operational equivalent of roughly 130 kWh of gasoline (assuming a four-gallon fuel tank on a street bike) into something the size of two shoe boxes, which is apropos since batteries so far are mostly rectangular in shape.
Here brings up another benefit of solid-state batteries: they can be molded to fit irregular shapes.
All of this adds up to a battery technology well-suited for electric motorcycles, and one that could bring electric motorcycles in-line with the performance characteristics currently enjoyed by motorcycles with internal combustion.
When coupled to the inherent drivetrain efficiencies that electrics enjoy over their gasoline equivalents, an electric motorcycle could theoretically get the same range as a gas-equivalent, in the same form factor and weight.
This is the silver bullet to getting mainstream adoption of electric motorcycles, and it is also the missing puzzle piece in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
Even quickly recharging such a large battery pack becomes more practical and feasible with solid-state batteries, assuming that charging stations could support the technology.
The first generation of solid-state batteries for EVs will likely continue to use a lithium-ion chemistry, but as the technology improves, we could see a return to elements that are more readily available and affordable, like aluminum. This would only serve to lower the costs of EV batteries even further.
With this news, the technology behind making electrics feasible and attractive replacements to petrol-powered is starting to come to fruition. As we saw yesterday, the political landscape is becoming more favorable as well.
A note to the motorcycle industry at large, this juggernaut is gaining speed.