Electric Car Battery (Everything you need to know)

The electric vehicle (EV) revolution is upon us. Car giants such as General Motors and Mercedes are looking to only sell zero-emission vehicles in the not too distant future. Despite this, many of you may still be skeptical as to whether EV’s and their tech (like an electric car battery) are advanced enough and therefore worth investing in.

An EV’s battery is the heart of the car and many of you may be justifiably concerned about factors such as their capacity (range), durability, and maintenance costs.

So on that note, let’s take a deeper look into EV batteries, clear up any questions or concerns you may have, and see why now may be a suitable time to make the jump to cleaner tail-pipe emissions.

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What Is An Electric Car Battery? 

EV car batteries are very similar to those currently found in your mobile phone. They are rechargeable devices, usually made from lithium-ion battery cells.

Hundreds of these cells are packed together into modules to form a larger car battery. This battery is stored under the floor of the car, inside the chassis. They are designed to have a high power-to-weight ratio and energy storage capacity.

What Makes Them Unique?

Batteries in EVs are different from conventional engine batteries, as they are required to provide a continual discharge of energy; whereas the latter requires a short, high energy burst to start the engine.


How Does An Electric Car Battery Work?

In order to work, EV batteries require an anode, cathode, separator, electrolyte, and two current allocators (positive and negative).

In the case of a lithium-ion battery, the anode and cathode store the lithium. The electrolyte, made of an organic compound consisting of lithium salts, transfers the positively charged lithium ions from the anode to the cathode, and vice-versa through the separator.

This displacement of lithium ions results in the creation of free electrons in the anode. Thus, resulting in a positive charge in the current collector.

The electrical current then proceeds to flow through the EV, ending in the negative current collector. The separator is used to block the flow of electrons inside the battery and is composed of a thin plastic film.

Diagram of a lithium-ion battery.
Diagram of a lithium-ion battery.
Source: Automotive News.

When an EV is charging, the opposite to that mentioned above happens. During charging, the lithium ions are released by the cathode and received by the anode.


Which Types of Batteries Are Used In Electric Cars? 

A variety of batteries can be used in EVs.

These include:

  • Lithium-Ion
  • Nickel-Metal Hydride
  • Lead-Acid
  • Ultracapacitors

Lithium-Ion

The most commonly adopted battery type for mobile phones, laptops, and EVs, due to their high energy and power to weight ratio, high energy efficiency, high-temperature performance, and low self-discharge.

These batteries can have different cathode compositions, such as NCM (lithium, nickel, cobalt, and manganese), LFP (lithium, iron, and phosphate), and NCA (nickel, cobalt, and aluminum).

Nickel-Metal Hydrid

These battery types are commonly used in computer and medical equipment, given they offer reasonable energy and power capabilities. They are also safe and abuse-resistant.

Lead-Acid

High power, inexpensive, safe, and reliable, these batteries are used for powering up conventional motors. However, due to their low specific energy, bad low-temperature performance, and short life cycles, these batteries are not very suitable for EVs.

Ultracapacitors

Ultracapacitors provide EVs with additional power during acceleration and hill climbs, also recovering energy from braking. They can also be helpful secondary energy storage devices, given they help level the load power of electrochemical batteries.


Which Type of Batteries Are The Best For Electric Cars? 

As it stands, lithium-ion batteries represent the best battery type for EVs. As described by Iclodean et al., this is thanks to their high energy density and power-to-weight ratio, thus making EVs lighter and more viable. Batteries also need to be able to recharge quickly and retain their energy density over a large period of time after many charging cycles.

Lithium-ion or lithium polymer batteries are the most commonly used batteries, thanks to their greater power-to-weight ratio and energy density. This battery type also offers superior cost and temperature benefits over nickel-metal and lead-acid batteries.

This table provides a comparison between EV car battery types.
This table provides a comparison between EV car battery types.
Source: Energy Sage

However, that is not to say that lithium-ion batteries are perfect – lithium mining has come under much criticism.

According to the Institute for Energy Research, lithium extraction used approximately 500,000 gallons of water per metric ton of lithium, and EU and US lithium recycling rates are less than 5%.


How Much Do Electric Car Batteries Cost On Average? 

According to Our World in Data, Lithium-ion battery cell costs have fallen by around 97% since 1991. Prices have fallen by an average of 19% for every doubling of capacity – this rate shows no sign of going down.

At current market value, lithium-ion battery packs averaged at 132 USD per kWh in 2021 – this is according to greencarreports. This would mean a smaller EV battery, like for a Nissan Leaf, would cost around 5,300-8,200 USD. Meanwhile, a larger EV, like a Tesla Model S or X, would cost around 13,200 USD. These prices would also depend on the manufacturer (considering labour and taxes etc.).

However, while this price has been dropping, higher raw material prices could cause them to increase a little in 2022. This could delay EV battery prices going below 100 USD – a crucial EV affordability benchmark – even longer.

Inflation-adjusted average price decrease over time for lithium-ion batteries per kWh.
Inflation-adjusted average price decrease over time for lithium-ion batteries per kWh.
Source: Statista.

What Does It Cost To Replace An EV Battery? 

Battery replacements are still somewhat rare, so costs are rather difficult to define. This is due to battery life continually extending, and so it becomes less and less likely that you would need to replace a battery. For example, Tesla stated it was working on a “million-mile battery” which probably would never need to be replaced.

  1. The cost of the battery itself.
  2. The labour cost.

Thus, the battery cost nowadays could be anywhere between 5,000 – 16,000 USD to replace, plus a labor cost (3-5 hours) of 1,000 – 5,000 USD. 


How Long Do Electric Car Batteries Last? 

In the US, most automakers provide a battery warranty between 8-10 years or a range of 100,000 miles. This is because US federal regulation mandates that electric car batteries be covered for a minimum of eight years.

However, depending on the manufacturer, the terms of the warranty may consider complete failure if it drops below a specific storage capacity (typically 60-75%).

While battery longevity does depend on a variety of factors (ambient temperature, miles driven per day, use of fast charging, etc.), a properly kept battery pack should last well over 100,000 miles, and its lifespan should be around 200,000 miles.

Considering the average miles driven per year in the US is 13,476, this would equate to 14.8 years. This range is equivalent to that currently expected for a typical passenger car.

Warranty Periods

The warranties for popular EVs are as follows:

EV ModelWarrantyPercentage guarantee
Nissan Leaf8 years/ 100,000 miles~75%
Chevrolet Bolt8 years/ 100,000 miles60%
Tesla Model S8 years/ unlimited milesNone
Tesla Model X8 years/ unlimited milesNone
Learn more about the lifespan of a Tesla EV battery here.

How Do You Recharge An Electric Car Battery?

Typically, you’ll charge the batteries of full and plug-in hybrid EVs with a standard connector at either 120V or at residential (240V) and commercial (208V) levels.

There are also rapid charging stations under development, but they are not yet available for residential use. 

If you’d like to know more about the cost of an EV charging station, click here.


What Dimensions Are Electric Car Batteries? 

The dimensions of EV batteries depend largely on the size, and thus the range of the car. A smaller EV’s battery, such as that for a Nissan Leaf has a size of 157 x 119 x 26 cm.

For the Tesla Model S, dimensions were hard to ascertain, but the battery is made up of several thousand 18650 cylindrical cells.


How Many kWh Does An Electric Car Battery Contain? 

The energy storage capacity of EV batteries largely depends on the needs of the user – the more range you’ll need, the bigger the battery.

Comparing models on the current market, an average kWh amount is as follows:

EV ModelkWh
BMW i337.9
Nissan Leaf37
Tesla Model 357
Jaguar i-Pace84.7
Tesla Model S95

Can An EV Battery Be Used For An Off-Grid Solar System? 

A standard off-grid sizing requires 3 days of autonomy. That, in combination with an energy usage of 1.9 kWh/day shows that you can easily use an EV battery for an off-grid solar system.

In fact, MIT scientists suggest that you can use second-hand EV batteries for this purpose.

This would make batteries much more affordable, and still fully functional even if they were at 80% of their original capacity. This would also improve the current circular economy of EV batteries.


Final Thoughts

Electric car batteries represent a key part of our sustainable future. We can see that they are already viable, as it’s unlikely that they will need replacing during the vehicle’s service life and many cars offer suitable ranges for our daily needs.

However, for those of you who are more conservative, you may want to wait a few more years for them to further drop in price and increase in energy capacity.

Additionally, second-hand batteries could be a viable option for those looking to install an off-grid solar system.

Thomas Mattinzioli, PhD Candidate

Thomas Mattinzioli, PhD Candidate

Tom is a civil engineer, specializing in sustainable transportation infrastructure. He has worked for over 4 years in sustainability and research. Sustainable transportation and alternative fuel vehicles are among his specialties.

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