The cost for lithium-ion batteries used in electric-drive vehicles will fall by about a third between now and 2017 as battery-production technology improves, lithium supply increases and battery packs are sold in higher volumes, green-technology research firm Pike Research said in a report released this week.

Lithium-ion battery packs for electric vehicles will fall to an "installed price" of about $523 per kilowatt hour, Pike predicts. Meanwhile, the firm estimates that global revenue from lithium-ion batteries specifically used for transportation will jump to $14.6 billion in 2017, up from $2 billion last year.

"The market for Li-ion batteries will be driven primarily by plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and battery electric vehicles, which require much larger battery packs than hybrids," said John Gartner, research director at Pike Research, in a statement.

Lithium-ion batteries present a classic chicken-or-egg issue with electric-vehicle adoption because battery costs need to decrease in order to yield the lower sticker prices that will entice more shoppers to consider buying EVs and hybrids. Conversely, battery packs need to be produced in high volumes in order to get costs to fall.

Even so, demand for electric-drive vehicles is expected to rise over the next few years as fuel prices increase and automakers offer a wider choice of plug-ins. Pike Research optimistically predicted last year that cumulative global sales of plug-in vehicles will reach 5.2 million units in 2017, up from 114,000 vehicles in 2011.

Estimates of battery costs have varied as automakers and tech analysts have looked into ways to make them less costly. The Nissan Leaf EV's battery pack has been reported to be as cheap as $375 per kilowatt hour, while Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk said last month that battery costs may fall to less than $200 per kilowatt hour "in the not-too-distant future."
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Prices for Lithium Ion Batteries Will Fall by More Than One-Third by 2017, Helping to Drive EV Adoption

Managing transportation emissions and reducing energy insecurity due to a volatile oil industry are on the top of the agenda of many countries across the world. Electric vehicles (EVs) have a significant role to play in both of those areas, and while EVs will continue to be a niche market through the remainder of this decade, the global automotive industry is beginning to move away from the internal combustion engine and toward electric drivetrains. For auto manufacturers, the key to this shift will be the continual advancement in the capabilities of the vehicles' batteries, which will be led by lithium ion (Li-ion) chemistries. The convergence of the automotive industry toward battery power and the engineering of safe, reliable, and economical Li-ion batteries will slowly reshape the automotive industry as it moves toward electrification. According to a recent report from Pike Research, as manufacturing efficiencies improve and access to lithium expands, the installed cost of Li-ion batteries will fall by more than one-third by the end of 2017.

In terms of revenue, the market for Li-ion batteries for transportation will grow from $2.0 billion annually in 2011 to more than $14.6 billion by 2017, the cleantech market intelligence firm forecasts.

"The market for Li-ion batteries will be driven primarily by plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs), which require much larger battery packs than hybrids," says research director John Gartner. "Battery chemistries that prioritize energy capacity over power density can satisfy both the PHEV and EV battery segments, enabling vendors to offer products to multiple vendors for multiple models. Reducing the installed price of EV batteries to $523 per kilowatt hour in 2017 will be a critical step towards making PEVs cost-competitive with petroleum-powered vehicles."

Although most plug-in electric vehicles today have a range of between 40 and 100 miles, continued concerns over range and the availability of charging infrastructure remain among the biggest impediments to the wider adoption of Li-ion batteries. On the supply side, challenges such as achieving higher energy density, better safety, and greater discharge/charge rates linger despite advances in battery technology. Although a number of Li-ion chemistries are available today, none of them can claim to be the ideal solution. Manufacturers must make tradeoffs in choosing a particular type of Li-ion battery over others.

Pike Research's report, "Electric Vehicle Batteries", outlines the critical role that governments around the globe will play in establishing the electric vehicle market, and the challenges that manufacturers face in creating an industry that will be able to stand on its own as government influence diminishes. The study examines the key market drivers for the electrification of vehicles, the status of R&D in batteries, the impact of declining battery production costs on vehicle sales, and the resale of batteries after their useful life in vehicles. An Executive Summary of the report is available for free download on the firm's website.