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Electric Cars Drive Demand For Cheaper, More Powerful Batteries

If there’s one person you’d expect to have an electric car, it’s . He’s in charge of battery research at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

“I’m actually in the market for a new car and would love to buy an electric car,” he says. “But there are practical problems.”

Srinivasan is driving around the lab’s campus in a mini-electric car, sort of like a golf cart. But there aren’t many full-size versions that would work for his daily 70-mile commute. The Nissan Leaf goes about 75 miles before it needs charging. can go 300 miles, but it’s pricey.

“What we want to do is get cars that go 200 miles, but you can buy them for the cost of, say, a Toyota Corolla or Toyota Camry,” Srinivasan says. “Where we are today in battery technology, we need a lot more work before we can get there.”

Lithium-ion batteries — the ones in today’s electric cars and cellphones — have come a long way in the past 20 years, packing twice as much energy in the same amount of space.

But compared to semiconductors, Srinivasan says, “that evolution is very, very slow” — computer chips have doubled in speed every 18 months.

Srinivasan says lithium-ion batteries have improved about as much as they can. What’s needed is a whole new technology.
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