Battery Innovator Takes Aim at EV Range Anxiety

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Electric vehicles (EVs) are gaining market share faster than many expected, but many consumers are not convinced they would be convenient — based on their limited driving range or a lack of spots to charge. US-based battery company ONE is striving to erase both of those concerns by developing batteries that would double the range of EVs. "It is well known that one of the major concerns of owning an electric vehicle is 'range anxiety,'" says Mujeeb Ijaz, CEO of the company, in an interview with Energy Intelligence. ONE, which stands for Our Next Energy, has developed two prototype battery technologies that promise to work together to massively extend driving ranges. Although many details are still left to be proven and ironed out, Ijaz says the Gemini prototype has reached 752 driving miles, double the range of the highest-range battery packs used in EVs on the road.

For many drivers, anything less than 400 miles causes range anxiety because they are used to the long ranges offered by petrol and diesel vehicles. "We believe that consumers are waiting for EVs to be able to achieve 400-500 miles of real-world range before adopting EVs as their only vehicle," says Ijaz. Further, the Gemini battery pack overcomes "real-world conditions" such as speed, cold climates and mountainous terrain that "cause problems for electric vehicles and range anxiety," Ijaz says. The executive has three decades of experience as an engineer working on batteries for EVs at established car manufacturers, including Ford and Chrysler. This thirst for knowledge and solutions spurred him to found ONE in 2020, with the specific goal of alleviating range anxiety.

ONE has already signed commercial contracts for its other prototype, called Aries, with four customers — deals that would deliver enough batteries for 300,000 EVs. More contract talks are under way and these include early discussions with car manufacturers, Ijaz explains. ONE has already attracted some notable investors, including the Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures and the venture arm of German automaker BMW. Ijaz says investments like those will help ONE advance plans for a US-based battery factory.

Everyday vs. Long-Range Option

ONE is working on two prototype battery packs. Aries is used for everyday driving and would offer a driving range in the 300-400 mile bracket, based on a lithium iron phosphate chemistry. Gemini is a dual-chemistry battery using manganese offering a "very high energy density to extend the range of the vehicle" up to 750 miles. "Each technology is free of nickel and cobalt," adds Ijaz, both of which are expensive to mine and suffer from environmental and supply chain issues. Congo (Kinshasa) is the world's largest producer of cobalt and is criticized for poor labor conditions, while Russia is a sizable producer of nickel. If all goes as planned, Aries should begin commercial production in late 2022, while Gemini should have prototypes available in 2023 and commercial production in 2026.

Another nagging issue for drivers considering an EV purchase is refueling constraints. "Beyond range anxiety, we see charging anxiety and charging infrastructure as a major concern," says Ijaz. He references a recent study from the University of California finding that 18% of EV owners eventually switch back to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles "due to lack of at-home charging, which points to a substantial amount of buyer’s remorse," says Ijaz. "I often put it this way. If you’re on a road trip and you reach your destination, you’re often not at home and unable to charge the way you normally do. You can equate this to the analogy of forgetting your phone charger when traveling and the anxiety of finding ways to charge before your phone dies. It’s a similar philosophy."

Tipping Point Ahead

The automotive industry — and the wider oil sector — is obsessed with tipping points. When will there be more consumers buying EVs than new gasoline and diesel cars? In Norway, that tipping point occurred years ago with EVs accounting for more than 90% of new car sales, yet despite growing sales numbers and penetration levels, most countries remain ICE dominated. "I think the tipping point is no more than a decade from now. In the past, there was a battle of sources in the market between steam, electric and gasoline, and which market would win. It took approximately one decade from the time that cost and infrastructure aligned to fully transition to one of the three. I think history will repeat itself nearly 100 years later. We will see the movement tipping from gasoline to electric vehicles as the cost comes down and the industrialization of electric vehicles grows," says Ijaz.

Ijaz thinks the tipping point won't be universal, with developed markets moving to EVs faster than developing countries with creakier grid networks. "The move for electrification is a global subject, but some countries are more well-positioned for adoption. In many developing countries, the electric grid is unstable. Adding the burden of full vehicle electrification will be difficult, so getting the grid to be reinforced is the first step," says Ijaz. Conversely, "in the developed world, electrification can take root in every market and some global markets, like Norway, have already adopted electrified vehicles by 92%. We need to take a hard look at how they did it and emulate those best practices," he adds.

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