Electric Road Trip

Q&A: Nobel-winning scientist put batteries in motion

Stanley Whittingham, a professor at State University of New York's Binghamton campus, joined two other scientists to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing lithium-ion batteries. The research in the 1970s and '80s led to lightweight rechargeable batteries, and it set the stage for modern electric car batteries and grid-scale energy storage.

In an interview with E&E News, Whittingham said research money flowed freely at Exxon Mobil Corp., the company he was working for at the time. Peak oil had entered the lexicon as far as U.S. production goes, and Exxon was eager to try new things.

He predicted a shift to electric vehicles could take a couple decades because of how long people keep their cars. "People typically keep their cars for 10 or 12 years, some people even longer," he noted. That said, the West Coast car market is in transition. "You'll see that happening very fast."

Cost and range anxiety are clearly the major hurdles to broad electric car adoption, Whittingham said. But he had a fun idea for how the nation's capital can set an example: White House officials could use EVs to commute to the Capitol.

The Nobel winner didn't avoid political questions. For example: Can the Trump administration defeat the electric car? "They can try to," he said. But for Detroit automakers, it's about survival on the world stage.

The auto companies don't appear to be backing away from plans to vastly expand their offerings.

Ford Motor Co. today announced a partnership with charging companies Greenlots, a subsidiary of Shell, and Electrify America, a spinoff of Volkswagen, to build out a national network of 12,000 charging stations and 35,000 plugs once Ford starts selling battery-electric models in 2020.

Meanwhile, Whittingham is still plugging away at the lithium-ion battery, with two projects at work with Energy Department funding. He says there are still big leaps to be made in battery performance.

See the full-length Q&A in Energywire.

Electric Road Trip

E&E News reporters take a 6,000-mile road trip in an electric vehicle to explore how the switch from gas to electric transportation will change the economy, environment and daily life of America.
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