Estimating the cost of lithium batteries for a future electric car
December 5, 2013 5:00 AM   Subscribe

How might I estimate how much lithium batteries will cost in a decade? I would like to do an electric car project, but I cannot afford the batteries I would want to use.

I own a 1989 Mitsubishi Starion. It is a four cylinder turbo gt. It is a fun car that I picked up for not much money that I paid in full in cash. I have another car, a 1995 Ford Escort wagon, that I use as my daily driver and my wife uses our 2003 Mazda Protege 5 to drive herself and our daughter around in.

The Starion has the most basic 1980s fuel injection, so I get about mid-20s in fuel economy, because I drive it fairly gently. I pretty much only drive it on short trips because I live in the middle of a city (Charlotte, NC) and rarely have to go very far to get anywhere. Over the last year and a half that I have owned the car, I have put about 1500 miles on the car.

While I am reasonably happy with the car, I have recently been inspired by finding other car owners' build threads wherein they make their cars electrically driven.

In this thread, a high school student (a very talented one) turns his Honda S2000 into an all-electric car with LOTS of power.

Meanwhile, John Wayland has created an extremely fast Datsun 1200 on an all-electric drivetrain. His recent quarter mile times have dipped into the 10s, which puts him on a par with exotic sports cars.

What appeals to me is that I could keep the transmission and layout (FR) of my Starion while simply replacing the gasoline motor with an electric motor. The major drawback to electric motors, range, is not a problem for me because I rarely drive my car more than 20 miles one way. In fact, it's currently difficult to keep my oil in good shape because I often take trips that are under 10 miles!

However, the other major drawback to electric cars, at least with the power levels of the two I have linked to, is cost of batteries. The two linked cars were looking for power levels that would equate to 500+ hp and I wouldn't need that, but I would like to keep my current power level (220ish hp and 270ish tq).

A huge amount of the cost in the two linked projects is the industrial grade lithium batteries, and lots of them. The S2000 was estimated to cost the owner $25k + to refit as an electric car. That's way out of my current budget.

So, my question is - what does the cost curve look like for lithium batteries? If I waited and did this project in a decade, is there any reasonable way to estimate what the batteries might cost given how their costs have changed over time so far?

PS - I have just purchased "How to Build an Electric Vehicle" by Seth Leitman and Bob Brant, so when it arrives I will dig into this more.
posted by Slothrop to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total)
If I waited and did this project in a decade, is there any reasonable way to estimate what the batteries might cost given how their costs have changed over time so far?

posted by jon1270 at 5:05 AM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a friend that retrofitted an old BMW to be an electric car, and I'm pretty sure he told me the whole project only cost him a few thousand bucks. There is no way in hell he ever would have spent $10K on it, let alone $25K or more.

So I think you might be missing a big piece of information related to battery costs.
posted by COD at 5:47 AM on December 5, 2013

In their Annual Energy Outlook 2012, the Energy Information Agency modeled battery costs for current trends and for high technology developments. From a baseline of $1,000/kWh in 2012, they project costs may half by 2020 or, if there are significant technological developments, drop to $250/kWh.

N.B. EIA estimates are sometimes off.
posted by JackBurden at 6:39 AM on December 5, 2013

And even if the overall price trend is downward, it is reasonable to expect that there will be significant price volatility, as the supply and demand curves for lithium batteries will not match up perfectly.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 7:04 AM on December 5, 2013

Response by poster: COD - the two projects linked are much more expensive than some electric car retrofits because they used lots of lithium batteries so that they could generate big, sports-car-level speed and power while driving. While I wouldn't need the 500+ hp equivalent they both ended up with, I also wouldn't want something that is equivalent to 70 hp, which is where you might end up with a less expensive, lead acid battery project.
posted by Slothrop at 8:29 AM on December 5, 2013

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