Another electric boat battery breakthrough?

We wrote a just over a week ago about the Oxis Energy ultra lightweight batteries for airplanes that are working on an energy density of 500 watt hours per kilogram (Wh/kg) and what that might mean for electric boats.

Now Nikola, the electric and hydrogen truck company that introduced an electric jetski last year, has announced that they will be unveiling a battery with double that capacity:  1,100 Wh/kg.

Material level vs production level

Before we get too carried away, though, let’s clarify things a bit. The claim of 1,100 Wh/kg is for the material level battery, not the production level. What that means is that if you are only testing the battery material, it could hold that power per kilogram. But in real life you need something to hold that material together in a battery and connect the batteries together in a pack, and seal them, etc, etc, so the production level – which includes all of those necessary weights, comes down to 500Wh per kilogram. (It’s unclear whether the Oxis battery is measured as material or production.)

The best EV batteries available now, in the Tesla 3, have a 250Wh per kg material level rating but are more like 185Wh/kg when they are actually in the car.

Still, last week we had one battery that could do anything like 500Wh/kg. Now we have two.

Maybe.

This would be a BIG battery breakthrough

Nikola makes some pretty bold claims in its press release. The headline says :Technology encompasses world’s first free-standing / self-supported electrode with a cathode that has 4x the energy density of lithium-ion. And it then goes on to say:

“This is the biggest advancement we have seen in the battery world,” said Trevor Milton, CEO, Nikola Motor Company. “We are not talking about small improvements; we are talking about doubling your cell phone battery capacity. We are talking about doubling the range of BEVs and hydrogen-electric vehicles around the world.”

Also:

Nikola’s new cell technology is environmentally friendly and easy to recycle. While conventional lithium-ion cells contain elements that are toxic and expensive, the new technology will have a positive impact on the earth’s resources, landfills and recycling plants.

How did they do it? That, too, is explained:

This month, Nikola entered into a letter of intent to acquire a world-class battery engineering team to help bring the new battery to pre-production. Through this acquisition, Nikola will add 15 PhDs and five master’s degree team members. Due to confidentiality and security reasons, additional details of the acquisition will not be disclosed until Nikola World 2020.

The battery world is filled with things that look amazingly promising in the lab but don’t pan out in real life. Then again, the energy density and power/weight ratio of batteries has been improving by leaps and bounds the past few years.

It’s a long way from 31 kilowatt hours/kilogram

In our first Plugboats Podcast Kevin Desmond – who knows a lot about both batteries and electric boats – says that when he saw his first electric boat on the Thames in London in 1979, an energy density of 31 watt hours per kilo was fantastic!

There is no denying that improvements are now made literally every week in energy density for batteries and that there are an awful lot of scientists and companies working to reap the rewards from a big battery breakthrough. But this is quite a claim from Nikola, however you slice it.

On the optimistic side, having batteries like these in your electric boat means you could go at least twice as far (or fast) as you can now (assuming you don’t have those state of the art Teslas in your boat.)

The press release also says:

Nikola will show the batteries charging and discharging in front of the crowd at Nikola World. The date of Nikola World will be announced soon but is expected to be fall of 2020.

All we can do is  wish them luck, wait and see!

Image: photocollage of photos by Alexander Andrews (phone) and  Pexels (lightning)

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