As electric vehicles (EVs) continue to gain popularity, the role of battery charging technology becomes increasingly important among consumers and automakers. EV owners want to be able to charge quickly and drive long distances, putting companies like Tesla and Nissan in a race to develop the most efficient battery on the market.
If you’re thinking about purchasing an EV, you’ll benefit from understanding the difference between electric and gas-powered engines, the various types of batteries, how to make your battery last longer, and the future of this technology.
Differences between electric and combustion engines
hen you look at the different methods used under the hood for gas and electric cars, it becomes clear that EV batteries are more efficient than internal combustion engines.
Traditional, gas-powered cars use a chemical process of combustion or burning. This involves creating energy by mixing fossil fuel and oxygen, which is sparked by the vehicle’s ignition. That energy allows the system of gears to go into motion, which ultimately propels the car forward.
EV engines, on the other hand, don’t rely on a system of moving gears. Instead, the battery pack simply delivers electricity to the electric motor through the controller, which creates a magnetic force that gets the wheels turning.
Additionally, since the system requires fewer moving parts, EVs are able to generate more torque than gas-powered vehicles. The power from the battery transfers directly to the wheels, which allows for instant acceleration. Models by Tesla, for example, can travel from zero to 60 miles-per-hour in only two or three seconds — a speed that mostly sports cars achieve.
Types of EV cars
n the market today, there are three types of EVs: BEVs, PHEVs, and HEVs:
- Battery electric vehicles (BEVs): BEVs are powered solely on electric battery power, with zero gas-powered parts. These are most compatible with fast charging and Level 2 charging cords and provide zero emissions.
- Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs): PHEVs are powered by both electric and gasoline but have a large battery capacity. They have both a battery and a gas port and can use Level 2 chargers.
- Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs): HEVs use both electric and gas power. They are low-emission vehicles, yet all of the energy comes from gasoline.
How an EV works
Now that you have an understanding of the difference between fuel-powered and electric-powered vehicles, it’s helpful to understand how your EV works.
EVs are “fueled” by plugging the vehicle into a charge port and using energy from the grid. An energy grid is a network of electricity delivered from energy producers to consumers. This is the power that you use in your home to turn the lights on, pump the AC and charge your phone. The network can be as small as a state or power entire countries.
The rechargeable battery in your car stores the electricity to power the motor.
More technically, the battery technology works with the natural interplay between magnetic and electric fields. As electrons move along a power wire, they interact with a magnetic field which polarizes the space and creates energy as the two north and south poles repel each other. By periodically reversing the polarity (or swapping where the north and south poles appear in the system), the EV motor can leverage these attracting and repelling forces to rotate the shaft, converting the power into torque and therefore turning the wheels for momentum.
AC or DC power
EVs use two types of fuel mechanisms known as alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC) power. When charging ports pull energy from and back to the energy grid, they’re using AC. This is most typically the type of energy used to power your home. Your EV will always pull energy using DC power, where energy only flows in one direction.
Modern EVs are designed to manage both DC and AC power. The battery in your car holds onto and outputs DC current, but the motor still needs AC to run. For example, when the battery pack is recharging, the energy comes through as AC current with Level 1 and Level 2 charging cords. Level 3 chargers, or fast chargers, use high-voltage DC current.
Types of EV batteries
Before diving into details on types of EV batteries, here are some terms that will help you understand what type to look for and the differences among battery types:
- Auxiliary battery: Provides electricity to power the vehicle’s accessories.
- Electric traction motor: Uses electricity to drive the vehicle’s wheels.
- Traction battery pack: Delivers electricity to the electric traction motor.
- Charge port: Connects the vehicle to an exterior power supply so the auxiliary battery and traction battery pack can be charged.
- Thermal system: Keeps the motor and other accessories from overheating.
- Power electronics controller: Manages the flow of electricity from the traction battery pack to the motor.
If you own an electric car, chances are it’s being powered by a lithium-ion battery. These batteries — which are also used for portable electronics like cell phones — are the most commonly utilized in EVs. Lithium-ion batteries are lightweight and have high energy efficiency. Plus, they perform well in high temperatures.
Lead-acid batteries are a safe and cheap option as well. However, because they have a short lifespan and a weak cold-temperature performance, they are currently only used for secondary power storage in commercial EVs.
Often found in hybrid models, nickel-metal hydride batteries rely on fuel to be recharged rather than an external plug-in. They offer a comparatively long life cycle and little maintenance. However, they are also expensive and heat up quickly when exposed to high temperatures.
Prolonging the life of your EV battery
Once you’re the owner of an electric car, there are steps you can take to maximize the efficiency of your battery, allowing you to keep it for longer, charge less frequently and drive longer distances.
If you live in a moderate climate, your EV battery will most likely need to be replaced after 12 to 15 years. One way to conserve energy in your battery is by driving at a slower momentum whenever possible. Higher speeds drain the battery faster. So by using side streets instead of highways whenever possible, you can save electricity and cut down on charging time.
Another simple method for prolonging battery life is parking in the shade. Like high speeds, high temperatures cause batteries to work harder. When parked in the sun, your car has to use its thermal management system in order to keep itself cool, drawing electricity from the battery.
Other ways to get the most out of your battery
Caring for and preserving your EV battery is just as important as taking care of a fuel-powered vehicle. However, because an EV has fewer moving parts and improved battery technology, it’s easier to take care of and is less likely to need regular maintenance. There are still some elements you need to consider as you prepare to buy.
- Avoid using fast charging unless necessary: Fast charging is a great way to quickly fuel your vehicle when you’re in a pinch but can wane them more quickly. While minimal at first, eight years of standard charging can offer you 10% more battery life.
- Minimize charging to 100%: While this may seem counterintuitive considering how you charge your electronic devices, your battery should not reach extreme levels of 0 or 100%. Think of it as allowing your fuel-powered vehicle to reach empty too often, this can hurt the engine and overwork the machine; the same is true for EVs.
The future of EV battery technology
It’s no surprise that electric cars are continuing to grow in popularity. With less maintenance and greater driving ranges, EV technology is making life easier for consumers who previously relied on gas-powered vehicles to travel, go to work, pick their kids up from school, etc.
Looking forward, the introduction of new battery technology will play a huge role in the competition between automakers like Tesla and Nissan. In order to draw the attention of consumers, companies are individually working to manufacture batteries that provide the highest levels of range and storage space.
For example, a small company called Nikola Motors recently announced that it is currently developing a lithium-ion battery that will double the range of an EV with half the charging time.
In February of 2022, the Biden administration launched a $5 billion plan over five years to build thousands of EV charging stations and push the country toward greater adoption of sustainable driving power. The plan aims to establish at least 50% electric vehicle sales by 2030.
Additionally, the Department of Transportation requires states to submit their plan for using the federal money to implement EV construction, such as highway routes, shopping centers and neighborhoods.
This plan would not only make charging stations more attractive but also accessible in rural or urban locations — making these vehicles less of a luxury option and more of an approachable alternative.