Energy Secretary Steven Chu wants the U.S. to become a global leader of affordable electric vehicles, starting with a five-passenger plug-in hybrid where the extra cost is paid back within five years.
The goal is to produce and sell unsubsidized plug-in electric vehicles within 10 years that are comparable in cost with conventional vehicles.
The “EV Everywhere Grand Challenge” was announced by President Obama in March and the Department of Energy is holding a series of workshops across the country to brainstorm and inspire the dramatic advances needed in batteries, power electronics, motors, lightweight materials and fast-charging infrastructure technology to make it a reality.
Chu was in Dearborn, Mich., for one of the workshops designed to recruit scientists, engineers and businesses so U.S. companies become the first in the world to produce affordable and convenient plug-ins for the average American family.
Today electric vehicles with a range of 200 miles, such as the Tesla Roadster, are too expensive. Even the mass-market Nissan Leaf at $36,050 (not counting the $7,500 tax credit) has a payback period of seven years at $4 a gallon, according to Edmunds.com.
The DOE estimates the extra cost of a Toyota Prius hybrid over a Camry is recouped in two years; a Ford Fusion hybrid needs 2.4 years to recoup, according to a draft of a DOE white paper.
Chu said the goal is to reduce cost so electric vehicles such as the Leaf can come down about $10,000 in price and there is a choice of EVs with a 100-mile range in the $23,000 price range:
It’s possible, he insists. He told reporters afterward there should be prototype batteries for testing by 2020.
By 2015, there will be the capacity to build 500,000 batteries a year in the U.S. Reducing battery cost is key to shortening the two- to six-year payback period for more expensive hybrids and electric vehicles, according to the EV Everywhere white paper.
Chu wants to see better lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles — he thinks they can improve their efficiency as much as threefold — and the ability to replace individual bad cells in a battery.
He also wants exploration of alternatives such as lithium sulfur batteries and the ability to recharge zinc-air batteries used in hearing aids. Non-invasive testing of batteries before they ship to customers would also reduce recalls and improve warranties, which automakers would appreciate.
“To find a problem that prevents failure in five years is huge,” he said.
Research will also look at reducing the need for rare earth elements or get rid of them altogether.
Chu wants to bring electro-chemists into automotive and encourage new sets of experts.
Chu equates this challenge with putting a man on the moon before the Russians. It follows the DOE’s “Sun Shot” Grand Challenge two years ago to drive down the price of solar energy to be competitive with natural gas in the next couple of decades.