VARENNES, QUE. — Karim Zaghib powers up a Chevy Volt electric hybrid for a tour of his domain: the energy storage and conversion facilities at Hydro-Québec’s sprawling two-square-kilometre research campus in Varennes, a Montreal exoburb on the South Shore of the St. Lawrence River.
Mr. Zaghib is Hydro-Québec’s point man on a high-stakes strategic mission to develop the superbattery of the future that will propel the much-vaunted all-electric car into the realm of commercial viability and consumer receptivity.
The veteran electro-chemist is a self-described idealist who dreams of spearheading the big technological breakthrough in electric-vehicle battery technology, committed to making a major contribution to a cleaner, more liveable planet.
For the province of Quebec and its marquee utility, which spends about $100-million a year on research and development, the spoils of victory are potentially huge: bragging rights to ownership of a revolutionary battery technology – potentially valued in the billions of dollars – that beats out an impressive bevy of rival research organizations in the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Europe, not to mention such major corporate players as Panasonic and Sony.
Mr. Zaghib says he and his team can create – within five years – a battery providing a range of 500 kilometres before needing a recharge.
The current maximum range for electric vehicles (EVs) is about 160 kilometres. It’s one of the more aggressive targets – both in terms of timeline and range – among other major research projects around the world.
And the challenge is huge: producing a battery that is safe, affordable, light, reliable, that can be cheaply mass produced, that charges quickly and efficiently, and offers the kind of range and power that drivers now get from the ubiquitous internal combustion engine.
Hydro-Québec touts itself as a major contender in the EV battery sweepstakes, pointing to its 35 years in EV battery research and solid reputation based on hundreds of patents and research breakthroughs.
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