A battery that ‘breathes’ could power next-gen electric vehicles

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Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) nearly doubled in 2013, but most won’t take you farther than 100 miles on one charge.

To boost their range toward a tantalizing 300 miles or more, researchers are reporting new progress on a “breathing” battery that has the potential to one day replace the lithium-ion technology of today’s EVs. 

“Lithium-air batteries are lightweight and deliver a large amount of electric energy,” said Nobuyuki Imanishi, a professor of Chemistry at the Graduate School of Engineering, Mie University, Japan.  “Many people expect them to one day be used in electric vehicles.”

The main difference between lithium-ion and lithium-air batteries is that the latter replaces the traditional cathode — a key battery component involved in the flow of electric current — with air.

That makes the rechargeable metal-air battery lighter with the potential to pack in more energy than its commercial counterpart.

IBM started a project in 2009 to develop lithium-air battery technology that is expected to improve energy density enough to travel 500 miles on a single charge and cheap enough to be practical for a typical family car.

While lithium-air batteries have been touted as an exciting technology to watch, they still have some kinks that need to be worked out so researchers are forging ahead on other fronts to get power storage cells in top form before they debut under the hood.

One of the main components researchers are working on is the batteries’ electrolytes, materials that conduct electricity between the electrodes. There are currently four electrolyte designs, one of which involves water.

The advantage of this “aqueous” design over the others is that it protects the lithium from interacting with gases in the atmosphere and enables fast reactions at the air electrode. The downside is that water in direct contact with lithium can damage it.


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