After 188 years, why has there been no qualitative leap in electric vehicle technology?

In the past few days, the news that academicians “shelled” 1,000-kilometer battery life electric vehicles has become a hot topic again. In recent years, due to the continuous investment of various enterprises in electric vehicle battery technology, the technological progress of batteries has indeed been rapid. However, unlike emerging technologies, electric vehicles have a history of more than 100 years, which is even longer than that of gasoline vehicles. Why has not yet formed a perfect technology?

Historical reasons: the ups and downs of 188

Speaking of the history of electric vehicles, it is actually difficult for us to find a fixed destination for it – such as belonging to a certain inventor or a certain country of invention, because a series of breakthroughs from batteries to electric motors since 1800 jointly created the first electric vehicle. The birth of an electric car. From the 19th century to the present, it seems that electric vehicles have a history of nearly 200 years, but in fact, the time for real technological progress is less than 90 years.


In the early 19th century, a group of innovators in Hungary, the Netherlands and the United States began working on the concept of a “battery-powered vehicle” and created the first small electric vehicles (circa 1834). British inventor Robert Anderson developed the first electric horse-drawn carriage around the same time (around 1832). But it wasn’t until the second half of the 19th century that French and British inventors made the first truly practical electric cars (around 1881).

After 188 years, why has there been no qualitative leap in electric vehicle technology?

Robert Anderson and his first electric vehicle | AutomoStory

In the U.S., electric vehicles quickly became popular with urban dwellers (especially women) due to their lack of noise, gasoline odor, and ease of driving. During the 1910-1920s, as more and more people started using electricity, charging electric vehicles became easier and more popular across industries. At the time, many innovators noticed the huge demand for electric vehicles and explored ways to improve the technology. For example, Porsche founder Ferdinand Porsche developed an electric car called the P1 (the P1) in 1898. Around the same time, he created the world’s first hybrid electric car. Gradually, the price of electric and petrol cars has increased. By 1912, gasoline cars were selling for as little as $650, while electric sports cars cost $1,750. That same year, Charles Kettering introduced electric starters that eliminated the need for a hand crank, increasing sales of gasoline-powered cars. By the 1920s and 1930s, the road system in the United States had become more and more perfect. With the discovery of crude oil in Texas, the price of natural gas gradually fell and the residents of rural areas of the United States could use it. Since then, gas stations have begun to rise nationwide. By contrast, very few Americans outside the city had access to electricity at the time. By 1935, electric cars had all but disappeared.

Porsche’s first electric car in 1898 | Weird


Electric vehicles entered a dark age for the next 30+ years with little technological progress. Cheap, plentiful gasoline, and the continual improvement of the internal combustion engine have made electric vehicles unnecessary. But by the late 1960s and early 1970s, soaring oil prices and shortages of gasoline brought electric cars back into the spotlight as a way to reduce America’s reliance on foreign oil. But interest in electric vehicles has slowly waned due to imperfect technology, flaws in development and production, and limited performance.


During the period from 1990 to 2000, in the United States, due to the inclination of policy (the environment is the most important), the support of the Department of Energy, and the rapid development of the economy, on the demand side, consumers no longer want fuel-efficient vehicles; On the supply side, scientists and engineers are also working hard to improve electric vehicle technology (including batteries). At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, the introduction of the Toyota Prius in 1997 (the world’s first mass-produced hybrid electric vehicle) and the creation of Tesla in 2006 successfully reshaped the electric vehicle industry before bringing electric vehicles to life. true rebirth.

Technical reasons: battery technology development, can be innovated, difficult to revolution

In fact, from the voltaic pile invented by the Italian physicist Volta in the early 1800s to the current lithium-ion battery, the battery has undergone a leap-forward development. But compared with Electronic products, the development speed of battery technology is far from enough.


Billy Wu, a professor at Imperial’s Dyson School of Engineering, once said: “In the field of microprocessors, it’s all about making things smaller. But when it comes to lithium-ion batteries, if you want to increase the energy density, in other words In other words, to increase the battery life of the phone, you have to fundamentally change the materials in the battery.” The development of battery technology is closely linked to the development of materials science and chemistry. Materials science and chemistry are both basic disciplines, but it is very difficult to translate the research results of such disciplines into practical technologies. A mature technology is not only to provide a result paper with beautiful data, but every link of the industry chain must adapt to the market before it can be commercialized. Therefore, from this perspective, the slow development of battery technology is consistent with the progressive law of energy storage technology.


At present, the potential of lithium battery technology has been basically exhausted, and the materials that replace lithium batteries have high limitations (for example: high cost or harsh use environment). Whether it is electronic products or electric vehicles, high-tech products have very high requirements for batteries. Even if a material that is helpful for improving energy density is found, it needs to go through a lot of experiments and tests to ensure its safety and stability, so it is difficult to guarantee the availability of these new materials. In addition, there are alternative batteries that are theoretically mature but cannot be used in everyday life – such as nuclear batteries.

Prototype nuclear battery pack delivers 10 times more power than chemical batteries |


No matter how long the civilization of the carriage was, it was eventually replaced by trains and automobiles; no matter how innovative the steam engine was, it was finally replaced by the internal combustion engine. From this level, it may not be the battery itself that can solve the battery problem. We don’t yet know when the next “car instead of horse-drawn carriage” type of technological revolution will come.

Other key technical challenges for electric vehicles

Due to the fact that the technology has not been developed for a long time, the development of electric vehicles is still facing many problems. Affordable electric vehicles have a range of less than 322 kilometers. Long-range models are also available, but the price of the car also increases), as well as fast-charging technology for electric vehicles. Most petrol vehicles can be filled up in minutes, but there is still a lot of uncertainty around charging electric vehicles. Also, similar to charging time, there is a lot of uncertainty about charging infrastructure. With the increasing proportion of new energy vehicles, the market demand for charging piles is also showing an order of magnitude increase. But China is leading the way, spending billions of dollars on electric vehicle infrastructure projects and a network of more than 1 million charging stations. As one of the new infrastructure projects, new energy vehicle charging piles have begun to stand at the center of the stage, and are expected to gradually enter the construction year.

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