3 Issues For Electrification That Few Auto Companies Are Discussing

Regardless of the strong opinions about whether the automotive market will convert entirely to electric vehicles or hybrids, there seems to be some unanimity about the existence of obstacles to that future state. The typical banter takes several forms: insufficient readily-available materials to supply the global fleet, inadequate recharging infrastructure (e.g., refueling stations, the grid itself), or mediocre market demand in regions like North America due to range anxiety, cost, etc. Whatever the reasons (and counterarguments), murmurs from behind the curtain speak nervously about several potential impediments to an electrified utopia, and politicians shuffle funding towards various initiatives to supposedly solve these perceived issues.

But few of these sources are discussing a few significant constraints that must be circumnavigated before the world’s automotive fueling can radically change away from internal combustion engines: the usage of PFAS’s, the definition of fast-charging and the dearth of qualified engineers.

FINLAND: The European Chemicals Agency, ECHA, in Helsinki.GETTY

PFAS’s (a.k.a. ‘Forever Chemicals’)

Eighteen months and ticking.

That should be the mentality about a type of plastic used over the past twenty-five years by the battery industry to store energy within an electrode. Conversely, though, most market research suggests PFAS growth suggests akin to a 21.33% CAGR (Compounded Annual Growth Rate) for PVDF until 2031. “It is projected that between 2020 and 2030, the global demand for lithium-ion batteries will increase elevenfold …,” predicts ReportLinker, “… [with] much of this growth … attributed to the rising popularity of electric vehicles, which predominantly rely on lithium-ion batteries for power.”

However, this growth loses sight of the original goal: sustainability. “There’s an accelerated effort to ban this PFAS plastic in 2025 in Europe since it accumulates in nature and cannot be removed,” states Eric Kish, CEO of Nanoramic, a battery-solutions manufacturer. “But depending upon the region, you might have different incentives that are contradictory, like how the U.S. [priorities are] mostly based on cost due to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).”

And so if regulations like the IRA don’t address PFAS’s, low-cost vehicles will topple the foundational initiative, i.e., the earth’s ability to sustain life suffers. 

For instance, China is both the largest global consumer and producer of electric vehicles (EV’s), which should comprise 1/3rd of their auto sales in 2023. With volume increases, piece prices decrease. So despite non-PDVF  solutions (e.g., Neocarbonix) being competitively priced right now , long-term economies of scale will naturally drive lower prices for the Chinese non-eco-friendly solutions, e.g., the 2020 study from Wu et al foretells the End of Life (EOL) batteries in China will increase sixfold from 2020 to 2030.

Will regional regulations like Europe’s 2025 PSAF-ban affect the global marketplace? Good question. “Some people are waiting to see if they’ll get an extension to these European regulations,” laments Kish. “But those will only be granted if there isn’t an alternate solution, which there is.” And so the rub: European solutions will likely become too expensive for consumers, North Americans and Asians will select cheaper solutions, and conservationists will be frustrated.

In the end: a non-sustainable sustainability strategy.

The Fast Dealing Of Fast Charging

A larger battery provides a longer range, but also more weight, more carbon-producing mining and reduced cabin space. Therein, some manufacturers have realized that faster-charging of smaller batteries might achieve a better user experience and carbon footprint. Per an Elite Experts Conference’s podcast from May, the CTO of Polestar, Jörg Brandscheid, emphasized, “Our sustainable approach is downsizing [and we’d] rather focus on … executing the charging process quicker.”

Similarly, Joanne Muller of Axios chronicled the want for such a mid-road-trip, quick recharge in March. “We had to choose between going slightly out of our way to find a DC ultra-fast-charger,” recalled Muller, “or waiting around at a much slower charging station at a car dealership or an adult education center. The Kia’s 800-volt charging system is the fastest in the industry, so we opted to stick with Electrify America and EVGo’s fast-chargers, even if it meant taking a couple little detours.”

But here’s the funny part: selecting a fast-charging vehicle is a shell game. Most manufacturers and marketers will tell consumers that their vehicle has the fastest charging in the industry just like all confectioners will tout the world’s best candy bar. And it’s hard to research since, shockingly (no pun intended), there isn’t a mandated way to measure it. So a key, long-term variable for adoption of the technology is being sold like snake oil.

Whose is the fastest, you ask? Thankfully Kelly Blue Book published a study in May and found the following five fastest-charging vehicles:

1) the Lucid Air at 20 miles per minute (MPM),

2) the Hyundai Ioniq 6 at 16.1 MPM,

3) the Porsche Taycan at 15.5 MPM,

4) the Tesla Model 3 at 15 MPM

5) the Kia EV6 at 14.6 EPM (OK, OK … at least they made the top 5)

The Human Factor

“People are our greatest asset.” – every corporation ever

A cliché delivered with varying levels of sincerity, certainly. This phrase, though, has become increasingly true for battery engineers that are either purchasing, designing, supplying or qualifying a complicated-yet-crucial element that requires an equally complex understanding of the tradeoffs.

“We grow our talent, but the industry, in general, has a very hard time finding experts,” states Kish. “To quote a customer of mine, ‘It doesn’t matter how much money you have, the Battery War will be won by the Talent War for battery experts.’” This is not just true of the European or North American gigafactories importing specialists from Asia, but also for the design activities attempting to compare solutions.

SOLUTION: Keep your people happy so they stay (duh!).

Author’s Note

The Great Resignation happened right at the beginning of this step-function change in the industry. That turnover lends itself to schedule and quality shifts from any originally laid plan; not to mention a shifting demand from global, post-pandemic inflation. Running these innovative businesses is tough, but doing so with revolving doors for employees makes it nearly impossible.

Therein, my strong suggestion: don’t scrimp right now. The way you treat your battery-management architects will also architect your future.

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