by Earl Scime, West Virginia University
In 2034 new battery materials with significantly increased storage capacity will transform the automotive market, massively reducing gasoline consumption and eliminating a major source of urban pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
The fact that we haven’t seen such widespread adoption of electric vehicles yet is largely due to “range anxiety” or the fear of running out of charge and being left stranded on the side of the road. In the next 20 years, I expect fundamental scientific research to identify new battery materials that will increase the energy storage density of economically practical batteries by at least a factor of five. With such batteries, electric vehicles will be able to penetrate the entire automotive market because their range will increase from a few hundred miles to over 1,000 miles on a single charge.
Like the complete transformation of the telephone industry brought about by the cellular telephone, a massive decrease in gasoline consumption will upend a wide range of industries – from shipping to oil refining – and services – from gas stations to electrical generation stations. The impact of such a transformation will have a powerful impact on government and society, including how we pay for roads and the elimination of a major pollution source in cities. Combined with self-generation of electricity, say from individual solar power stations, even the economics of the cost of transportation will be revolutionized. The effect of improved fuel economy is already having an impact on transportation funding which comes from gasoline taxes.
Continued federal and private investment in the fundamental sciences, i.e., chemistry, physics, material science, and engineering, is needed to discover the new battery materials and manufacturing processes that will usher in this new era. Researchers at my own institution, West Virginia University, just received a series of federal grants in these research areas, particularly in the development of new cathode materials for batteries, and I am excited that my colleagues will be advancing the state of battery science in the years to come.
At the same time, federal and state governments need to start addressing how to maintain transportation infrastructure without gasoline taxes, how to recover and recycle depleted batteries, and how to accelerate the development of the electrical generation and distribution systems needed to support an electric-transportation-based world.
Earl Scime is the Associate Vice President for Research and Economic Development and the Oleg Jefimenko Professor of Physics at West Virginia University. His work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and NASA.