Electric vehicles (EVs) have been around a long time – since 1884, to be exact. And while they’ve had their time on the Moon (thanks to the Apollo 15 space buggy), only now are they starting to have their time in the sun. In between, there were quite a few false starts – a story few people know better than William Mays. A key member of BASF’s Battery Materials team, nowadays William liaises between BASF customers (typically battery manufacturers) and BASF’s R&D labs to help deliver battery material solutions tailored to the customer’s own requirements. An immensely experienced battery materials scientist in his own right, William’s perspective on how the EV got to where it is today isn’t just fascinating – it’s authoritative, being based on his own life experiences.
Majoring in solid state physics and minoring in electrical engineering at college, William had already identified a development gap in efficient energy storage by the time he graduated. So, when the opportunity came up to work with batteries, William leapt to fill it... just in time, it seemed, for the EV industry to really kick off. “This was the mid 90s, and I have to tell you there was a huge amount of excitement. We were scaling up, there were multiple joint ventures, EVs were going to take off, the US was poised to really jumpstart the industry”.
Then all of a sudden, it stopped. Maybe it was political, maybe it was pressure from other industries, maybe the market just wasn’t ready. The plug had been pulled and it seemed like the moment was gone. But for William, there was too much potential to stop there. “You know, in the early days I saw some amazing cars. People were doing all kinds of amazing things with electric vehicles to prove they were not only efficient but also powerful. You know, with electricity it's instantaneous power so you’re shot back to the back of your seat!” he says with genuine enthusiasm.
He continued his work on batteries with Ovonic Battery Company, and eventually became a key member of the team that developed the nickel hydride battery, a technology that remains in use in some cars to this day. Despite his earlier setback, he says, “It was still a very exciting time because you felt like you were doing something that was changing the world.”
It was an electrifying time to work in EVs, you could say. But for William, his drive for better batteries has always been rooted in sustainability – a key driver of the work he does with BASF around EV battery materials. “At the end of the day, that's what it's all about. We only have a set amount of resources on the earth. There's a lot of energy in gasoline that we’re just burning away. But with EVs, you change that whole dynamic”. He worries about the world he’s leaving his daughter. “You don't want them to grow up in a world where they have to worry about climate change. And something is happening - you can tell by the weather patterns, the increase in temperature. We need to leave this world better than we found it.”
It’s been a rocky road for EVs but, after 25 years in the industry, William believes they’re finally in the home straight.