CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina’s electric vehicle industry is booming.
According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, new EV registrations were up at least 14% during the first quarter of 2023.
As more drivers ditch gas-powered cars, the demand for reliable and affordable batteries is rising as well.
Dr. Jun Xu is the director of the North Carolina Battery Complexity, Autonomous Vehicle and Electrification Research Center (BATT CAVE) at UNC Charlotte. It’s the first and only university-led battery research center in the state.
“We’re trying to make sure the EV industry can develop in more sustainable and safer ways,” Xu said.
The BATT CAVE’s goal is focused on “solving the safety, durability, manufacturing, vehicle integration, and recyclability of next-generation batteries,” according to UNC Charlotte.
Xu says battery safety is especially important to their research. Because while rare, electric vehicle fires have been caused by batteries failing and suddenly igniting.
“You have to solve the safety issues,” Xu said. “Otherwise, there’s no way for your vehicle to further develop.”
The center is funded in part by a more than $40 million investment from the state.
Xu says they’re finding innovative solutions to fuel the future of electric travel.
“We try to understand the battery safety behaviors, and also develop next-generation battery materials and systems,” Xu said.
For example, university students and staff are helping design a battery-powered system to provide electricity to Belmont Trolley’s railcars.
They’ve also helped work on PoleVolt, which uses existing streetlights to meet the growing demand for charging stations.
“And they can be installed in a very cheap and efficient way such as to provide possible charging stations for electric vehicles,” Xu said.
Xu believes affordability is also important to the future of electric travel, which is why his team is researching cheaper ways to power batteries, such as using sodium rather than lithium.
“We are not building space shuttles, we are building vehicles,” Xu said. “We need to make sure it’s affordable and we make future batteries affordable by finding something that’s abundant.”
Xu says the center partners with local and state governments, as well as private companies.
EV companies are also making big investments to bring production facilities to rural areas between the Triangle and Triad. Vinfast plans to build an electric vehicle factory in Chatham County and Toyota plans to open an EV battery factory not far from Greensboro.