The first cars did not need batteries. It was only when the hand crank was replaced with electric starters that batteries became necessary. Since then, there have been discussions worldwide on the standards that govern electricity in a car. In 1918, 6 volts were enough to start an engine. By now, German car makers prefer a 12 volt solution supported by a second electricity supply, delivering a power of 48 volts. It is these standards which define the size, weight, performance and ultimately the cost of batteries. The batteries of the future will face tall demands. They need to offer more performance while at the same time becoming smaller and lighter. They shouldn’t discharge fully, but provide long battery life and quick charging without overheating. In addition, in Europe there is a legal obligation to return spent batteries, including from cars. This means that manufacturers must consider how to reuse these batteries. For example, BMW plans to store and exploit empty car batteries in a new type of powerplant.
All over the world, people are looking for ways to improve batteries. Graphene-based batteries offer real potential. But how long will humans need batteries as a means of storing energy at all? Researchers at the University of Washington this year created a mobile phone that requires no battery. Instead, it draws its energy from light and radio waves. When would this technology be ripe for a car, and what consequences will this have?