High Battery Costs for Electric Vehicles Obstructing Semiconductors' Growth

by: Robert Castellano

Despite a sluggish forecast for the overall high-tech industry in the near term, alternative energies technologies are expected to grow at a 40% annual rate through 2012, and semiconductors used in these applications will see a comparable growth, according to a report Semiconductors for Alternative Energy Technologies: Opportunities and Markets, recently published by The Information Network.

However, one of the laggards in the alternative energy space is the use of electric vehicles. Light-weight, high-energy-density lithium ion batteries, which can enable a car to go up to 300 miles on a charge, can cost as much as $35,000, which coincidentally is the replacement cost for the new Tesla Motors Roadster.

According to John Peterson in his April 6 article in Seeking Alpha (Lithium-ion Batteries: 9 Years of Price Stagnation), the U.S. DOE reported in 2008 that the cost of high-energy Li-ion batteries for EV applications "is approximately a factor of three-five too high on a kWh basis."

Even cars designed for driving less than 40 miles per day, such as the Chevy Volt, will incorporate a battery pack that can cost more than $10,000.

Semiconductors in electric vehicles are used as inverters and bi-directional dc-dc converters for vehicle power management. NREL is working toward goals to develop by 2010 an integrated electronics system that costs no more than $12/kW peak and can deliver at least 55 kW of power for 18 seconds and 30 kW of continuous power. That equates to $360 per vehicle.

The semiconductor market in 2008 for solar, wind, and fuel cells was nearly $800 million and will more than double to nearly $2 billion in 2012 according to the report. If the industry could sell 10 million electric vehicles in 2012 by reducing battery and electronics costs, the semiconductor content could add several billion dollars more to the market.

Disclosure: None