Not too long ago, car owners were quite skeptical about hybrid and electric vehicle technologies, and it was easy to see why. They were worried about the reliability and the driving range of these products, and so for the most part they stayed away from cars with electric propulsion. They even had a term for it: “range anxiety,” or the constant fear that an EV would run out of juice before reaching its destination. Sort of like how a driver of a conventional car feels when he sees the fuel gauge warning light up.
Thankfully, as new products and technologies are introduced, the doubts that motorists have over electric vehicles slowly fade away. Still, there remain a lot of societal and environmental issues that need resolving. Air pollution, global warming, energy security and the depletion of natural resources are just some of those issues. With steadily increasing hybrid and electric car sales all over the world, the need for new and alternative solutions for power and mobility is clear and present, pressing companies to find or come up with answers—quick.
Japanese companies Toyota Motor Corporation and Panasonic Corporation know this and want to stay at the forefront of electric mobility. To achieve that goal, the two firms have just agreed to work together on a feasibility study to help develop new and better car batteries. We’re not talking about traditional car batteries that you use to start your internal-combustion engine, but batteries that store power for electric motors.
Current batteries on hybrid and electric vehicles use cylindrical cells because these are easy to make and are rather mechanically stable. However, they eat up a lot of space, which is something hybrid and electric cars need. On the other hand, prismatic cells are thin, thus helping make effective use of available space. These rectangular battery cells allow for better layering, making them much more flexible. That is why compact and mobile devices use this lightweight battery technology.
The downside is that prismatic-cell batteries may also die more quickly, they have less effective thermal management, and they are sensitive to pressure changes. Most crucially, prismatic cells have a higher watt-per-hour price, not to mention they are quite expensive to design and manufacture. Despite these issues, prismatic-cell battery technology shows a lot of promise, catching the attention of both Toyota and Panasonic.
In improving this battery technology, Toyota and Panasonic are set to benefit from a potential joint venture. Toyota, for its part, has been the leader in hybrid and electric vehicle production. The ever-growing sales of hybrid and electric cars make Toyota want to explore next-generation power storage solutions. Panasonic, on the other hand, has been one of the largest car battery manufacturers in the world, with lithium-ion batteries among its key businesses. In fact, the brand’s cylindrical batteries power many things in the industry, including Tesla cars.
This hugely ambitious undertaking is one great gamble for both Toyota and Panasonic. It will certainly require considerable funding and single-minded focus from the two partners. But the development of new, relevant and reliable power storage technologies will serve not just Toyota and Panasonic, but more so their millions of customers around the globe.