The tech behind the Mercedes AVTR Concept could enter production one day.
Before all of 2020's auto shows were canceled or postponed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Mercedes lifted the wraps off the Vision AVTR at the 2020 CES show. It's no coincidence that its futuristic design looks like a car from a science fiction film because this radical electric concept car was designed by the team behind James Cameron's Avatar movie. Along with its eye-catching exterior, the AVTR also previewed revolutionary battery tech that could change the EV industry.
Whereas the Mercedes EQC lithium-ion battery pack, the AVTR's 110 kWh battery pack uses graphene-based organic cell chemistry free of rare Earth metals, meaning they are recyclable through composting. Speaking to Autocar, Andreas Hintennach, Mercedes' senior manager of battery research, believes these environmentally friendly organic batteries are "very promising technology" and could be used in the German automaker's road cars in the future.
"It's a very promising technology. I've already seen it working in laboratories, where the results look really good, but we don't see that it's close to being used in production technology for now." Hintennach added that doesn't expect the technology to be used in production cars for another 15-20 years.
In the meantime, Mercedes aims to improve the efficiency of its current lithium ion batteries. Hinnentach estimates the range could be improved by 25 percent. Currently the EQC SUV has an estimated driving range of 276-292 miles based on Europe's NEDC test cycle.
Mercedes is also evaluating future technologies it aims to implement within the next five-15 years, including solid-state batteries. While Hinnentach acknowledges this tech "opens a lot of doors and windows", he warns that "it's not a magic solution".
"Solid state adds lots of positive aspects. It's not a miracle but would be a huge step forward," he said. One of the main drawbacks of solid-state batteries is the long charging times that make them unsuitable for road cars. Instead, Mercedes plans to use them eCitaro bus first in the second half of this decade.
This isn't the only EV technology Mercedes is researching, either. Hinnentach revealed the German automaker is investigating lithium-metal anodes, lithium-sulphur batteries and lithium-oxygen batteries, which all offer varying efficiency, density and weight. These battery types could potentially be suitable for different vehicles, however. Lithium-sulphur, for example, could be used in vehicles with smaller battery packs since it's lighter than lithium ion.
"It is challenging, but you need novel ideas. We need to be very focused on the future," Hinnentach said when asked if there is a risk of using multiple technologies. "You do risk inefficiency by looking at multiple options, and not all will make it to market, but if you didn't take risks in R&D by backing multiple horses, then you could end up losing. We're also keeping the pipeline open for the future."