One of the key tasks for electric carmakers is to extend the range of the car. For example, Nissan Leaf has seen increase in electro-range (the range on only battery pack) over the years – 73 miles for the 2012 model and 107 miles for the latest 2016 model. Also, BMW plans to upgrade the battery pack in its i3 to enable 120 miles, up from the current 81 miles.
To date, the longest electro-range should belong to Tesla Model S 90D – 270 miles (or 432 km). The luxury electric car has a 90 kWh battery pack, with high-energy silicon blended in the anode of the batteries. (Please see our article The Cells in Tesla’s 90 kWh Model S that “Partially Use Silicon” – What Can They Be?) Besides, companies such as Mercedes-Benz are making efforts to reach 500 km.
Samsung SDI made the news recently at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show. It exhibited a “low height pack” prismatic battery that can support a range of 600 km form the current 500 km. The boost in the range is a result of 20-30% increase in battery energy. However, the specific energy of the new battery is unknown to our knowledge. Samsung SDI is targeting year 2020 to start the production.
Electric cars can drive 3-4 miles on a single kWh. With that being said, the state-of-the-art battery packs can still go 370 miles (600 km). They just need to be bigger (and heavier), to deliver enough energy. Some back-of-the-envelope numbers: 106 kWh for 370 miles (by using 3.5 miles/kWh). In fact, it needs to be more than 106 kWh since the miles/kWh will drop when you carry a heavier battery pack. On this, as another example, VW BUDD-e concept car can only run 233 miles on its 101 kWh battery pack (EPA drive cycle), probably because it is heavier as a minivan.
This calculation is just easy on paper. It is hard to accommodate such a big battery pack in a sedan. The whole floor of Tesla Model S is used for the battery pack already. Larger vehicles (like minivans) may work, but themselves are heavy. Then we go back to a lower range… So, in a word, we probably need to improve the energy densities of batteries (meaning lighter and smaller but with the same energy), to go 600 km.
So, this should be what the new Samsung battery is about – high energy densities.
The specific energy of Samsung 60 Ah prismatic batteries can be around 130 Wh/kg (which are being used in BMW i3 right now). The 2017 i3 may use the 94 Ah batteries to get to 120 miles. Then the specific energy of the 94 Ah batteries could be around 190 Wh/kg.
Samsung has a roadmap to go to 250 Wh/kg by 2019. This time stamp matches the production of the battery for 600 km. Moreover, 250 Wh/kg is about 30% more than 190 Wh/kg. There are also discussions on a possible 120 Ah battery. So can the battery for 600 km be 120 Ah with a specific energy of 250 Wh/kg?
As compared, Panasonic 25 Ah prismatic batteries in current VW e-Golf can have a specific energy of 170 Wh/kg. It is reported that 2017 e-Golf will use 37 Ah batteries with 30% increase in range, so the specific energy could be around 220 Wh/kg.
Last year, Hitachi demonstrated 335 Wh/kg with 30 Ah prototype batteries and the company plans to produce them starting in 2020.