Thinking Tech

Is this 400-mile electric car battery for real?

Posting in Energy

A company reportedly squeezed 375 miles out of a modified electric battery-powered Audi A2.

Whenever a little-known company suddenly announces they've developed a potentially revolutionary technology that's way more advanced than anything else out there, skeptics are going to be, well, even more skeptical.

This is the currently the case in the ongoing saga involving the German tech firm DBM Energy. While it's not like they've figured out a way to enable cars to fly (although there's a company trying to do that too), the company did claim to have produced a battery that allows electric vehicles to go 400 miles on a single charge, which, by the way, would be a world record.

Currently, the in-house produced battery for Tesla's Roadster offers a range of 245 miles, the longest range of any electric vehicle in production.

For good measure, DBM says that their Kolibri alpha-polymer battery also happens to be two-thirds the weight of Tesla's battery pack, costs as little as $1,100 dollars to manufacture and features enough charge cycles to last a decade. And, get this, it can be recharged in mere minutes.

These claims were initially made back in October after the company reportedly squeezed 375 miles out of a Kolibri-powered Audi A2 during a trip from Munich to Berlin. The vehicle, which averaged an impressive 55 miles per hour while only using up 80 percent of the battery's energy capacity, was also put through a battery (pun intended) of third-party performance tests to verify the results.

But then, things got a little hairy. Jim Motavalli over at our sister site BNET breaks down what transpired afterward that have led some to cast doubt over the company's claims.

DBM probably did make that record run, but the details (how many people aboard, for instance) are important. It takes a really rigorous process to ensure that all the useful data is recorded. It’s also unclear if the DBM team was under observation at all times, though witnesses are claimed.

But the company has been a slippery eel on validation. DBM Energy’s battery work is supported by the German economics ministry (with $370,000 in funding), but before any official testing on the miracle pack could be done… disaster struck! In December the car that had reportedly made that history-making run burned up mysteriously in a warehouse fire. A dog ate the homework, in other words.

DBM said it would stage a second record-setting run in February, but then it got really cold at the test track, the test was postponed, and so was a planned showing of a DBM car at a German electronics show in March. At this point, anyone could see parallels to the exaggerated claims made by Texas-based EEStor, which said in 2008 that its ultra-capacitors had three times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries at much reduced cost, and would power an EV with 250 miles of range. But it delivered… nothing at all.

And then April 1 (April Fool’s Day, of course), DBM claimed it had passed rigorous tests at the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing “with flying colors.” But those tests were mostly about safety issues — the batteries didn’t catch fire, leak, or “decompose.” Still pretty inconclusive, and performance tests (not on the road, but on a dynometer) at the DEKRA certification agency didn’t entirely clear things up, either. They were done on a smaller 62.9 kilowatt-hour pack for some unexplained reason, and they yielded 284.5 mile range. Extrapolated, that means 443 miles for the larger pack tested earlier.

Vindication? Not yet. DBM claims a “worldwide record” in its Munich to Berlin run, but it better be ready to replicate it — over and over again.

Beyond the dubiousness of the accounts, other questions remain. For instance, it's reported that the battery in question is a 98 kilowatt-hour pack. So even if the company's results hold up, are they that impressive when you take in account that Tesla's Roadster already gets a 245 mile range from a lower capacity 56 kilowatt-hour battery pack? What might possibly make the battery a game-changer, though, is if it can live up to at least some of its other claims.

Here's a video about the battery from DBM that's best viewed if you understand German:

(via BNET, New York Times)

Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure