French firm leads race for 1,000km electric car battery

1,000km electric car batteries are in development with technology from a French company using research from the state CEA scientific lab

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Electric cars could run for up to 1,000km on batteries being developed with technology provided by a French company spun off to exploit research at the state CEA scientific lab.

NAWA Technologies, using research into carbon nanotubes, is ready to produce plates to make supercapacitors, which it will incorporate from this year into hybrid supercapacitor/lithium-ion batteries.

Dr Pascal Boulanger, one of the founders of NAWA Technologies, told The Connexion: “The first uses will be for professional tools, like in spacecraft, remote sensors and power tools, as well as in hybrid electric/internal combustion engines.

“As well as being used in hybrid supercapacitor/lithiumion batteries, our technology is being developed in a second line of research to make a new form of battery, with many of the characteristics of a supercapacitor, which will be developed for all electric vehicles.

“We are confident these will give 800km-1,000km range and also be able to take 80% of their charge in around five minutes,” he said. Electric vehicles on the market now manage between 250km and 300km on a charge.

The batteries should be available in 2025

The time it will take to perfect the architecture of the battery interior for maximum efficiency, decide the best chemical compounds to act as electrolytes, and set up factories capable of producing hundreds of thousands of batteries a year should see availability in 2025.

Capacitors store electrical energy physically in the form of static electricity, while batteries store electricity chemically in the form of reactive chemicals in two electrodes.

Electricity stored in capacitors is released in short, sharp powerful bursts, while that stored in batteries can be released slowly. Capacitors become supercapacitors when an electrolyte is used to boost performance.

The breakthrough that NAWA is exploiting was made at the Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives (CEA) laboratories near Paris.

CEA is one of the two main scientific research institutes in France, along with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).

Researchers discovered a way of making and aligning nanotubes of carbon so they stick up like brush bristles. These can be used for the plates in a supercapacitor and can also be surrounded by the chemicals used to store electrical energy in batteries.

Using a process called VACNT (vertically aligned carbon nanotubes), NAWA Technologies is able to make plates for supercapacitors with 100billion nanotubes of carbon per square centimetre, something which dramatically increases the surface area to hold an electrical charge.

The company has developed ways to create channels through the tubes so electrolyte and battery chemicals interact in an efficient way.

A production line to make the plates is being installed at the firm’s base in the ST Microelectronics factory at Rousset (Bouches-du-Rhône), which will start making plates for hybrid batteries this year. It employs around 45 people.

“We have reached the limits of improvements which can be made to existing batteries in electric vehicles,” said Dr Boulanger.

“For there to be more improvements, there has to be a different sort of battery, using a different architecture, and that is what we are developing.”

The company is in partnership with, and providing research and materials to, Saft, the main French batterymaker, which is now owned by Total. Saft is closely involved in the European “Airbus of batteries” project, which seeks to co-ordinate national efforts in Europe to create a battery industry able to compete globally, in the way that national aeronautic companies joined together to form Airbus.

“It is something which Saft is very involved in and the impact has come down to us,” said Dr Boulanger.

The ‘Airbus of batteries’

“The ‘Airbus of batteries’ is having an effect and boosting the industry already.”

While work is continuing on new electric vehicle batteries, the supercapacitor/lithium hybrid batteries, which will be made next year, will probably first be of use to the general public in the form of improvements to hybrid electric/ internal combustion vehicles.

They will allow energy to be recovered much quicker when the vehicle brakes or coasts.

“Effectively, the hybrid batteries will be lighter, more powerful, and will also recharge quicker,” said Dr Boulanger. “It is not always easy or possible to translate scientific advances into practical applications but here at NAWA Technologies we are on track to do that.”

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