500 Mile Electric Cars? New Lithium-Air Tech Has Potential

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2012 Mitsubishi i electric car battery pack

2012 Mitsubishi i electric car battery pack

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We'd be the first to point out that many of the electric car owners currently out on the roads have had absolutely no trouble with the 100 or so miles they get from a full charge.

However, it'd be foolish to assume that some people really don't need more than that, and as a result there's always room for an EV with greater range.

Improvements to battery technology could be the best way to find this range, and according to New Scientist (via Autoblog), developments in Lithium-Air batteries from IBM could give us electric cars with a 500-mile range.

Just consider that for a second - 500 miles. That's enough to beat many internal combustion cars on sale today, and would certainly eliminate range anxiety.

Lithium-air batteries have significantly greater energy density than regular lithium-ion batteries - close to that of gasoline, in fact. That means batteries could be down-scaled - and therefore vehicle weight reduced - while still increasing range.

At the moment, it's the chemistry that's proving tricky. Lithium is incredibly reactive, particularly in water. Explosively so, in fact - clearly not great when cars are used in a range of humidities.

Several companies are working to improve Lithium-air technology, by testing moisture-proof battery membranes, and graphene cathodes.

IBM is seeking to improve the electrolyte, the solvent that carries lithium ions between anode and cathode. Current electrolytes react with air and become depleted over time, so IBM is testing various materials. The company thinks it's found one, but isn't revealing any details just yet.

However, an IBM-led coalition called Battery 500, hopes to have a full-scale prototype running by 2013, and commercial batteries ready by 2020.

You might have to wait a few more years for an electric car that truly goes further than the gasoline equivalent, but it's on its way.

And hey, in the meantime, you still get to drive past every filling station...


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Comments (20)
  1. when the need arises, the battery will be here

  2. Given the added weight and cost of a 500 mile vs 100 mile battery, it still might not be the right choice.

  3. Haven't you ever noticed when technologies improve that they also go down in price? Flat panel TVs don't cost $24,000. anymore, and the article did point out that these batteries will weigh less.

  4. absolutely. the snowball has just begun to roll down the mountain, and people are complaining because it isnt an avalanche yet.

    as i stated, when the need arises, the product will be here.

    at this point, our biggest obstacle is producing enough of them. with only a few to sell, the prices dont have to be low, nor the range any higher than 100 miles.

    and quite frankly, they dont need to work on the range that much. right now, PRICE is the overwhelming reason why someone would choose to buy an ice.

    ices would almost go out of business overnight if we had a 100 mile range ev for the same price as an ice.

  5. Funny... One of those price cutters on the flat screen is hydrogen, but BEV advocates want hydrogen to go to hell.

    But anyway... getting back to the comment... unless IBM does to the materials what they did to the PC (off the shelf parts), this will turn into a happy medium of price vs. distance.

  6. I know the reason I don't hydrogen or just fuel cells in general is it will keep us chained to the fuel pump. Electricity is already abundant in either grid produced or privately produced with solar panels. I want to refuel at home in my garage and only electric cars can do that safely. You know if people were handling hydrogen there will still be a fire hazard just like gasoline.

  7. Yeah... god forbid you circumvent that by generating your own hydrogen at home.

    Sorry to burst your bubble but hydrogen isn't a fire hazard like gasoline. Even natural gas isn't a hazard like gasoline, and hydrogen is safer than NG. Maybe it is just where I live, but having natural gas in the home for heating and/or cooking is not held as a fire hazard.

    The bigger problem is no one solution will do it alone; this will be a joint effort. Yet each alternative category wants the rest to shrivel up and blow away. Evidently "Green" is "Green" as long as it is done "my way".

  8. All you have to do is give technology a moment and it catches up extremely fast. The people who pick on the electric cars are just impatient, they're the type of people who think microwaves take to long to cook.

  9. Commercial batteries by 2020...is that a diplomatic way of saying there is still a lot of unresolved problems that may or may not be resolved someday?

  10. Your guess is as good as mine Chris!

  11. I made that remark because li-air faces some major challenges like slow recharge times and very short cycle life so I wonder where IBM is in resolving those issues. The 2020 date suggests there is still plenty of work to be done...

  12. eh..short cycle life...clearly they are on track on resolving that one...I meant to mention low power density, which is also an issue with Li-air.

  13. No, it's away of throwing potential competitors off. There is a lot of wiggle room between 2013 (prototype stage) and 2020 (production stage?) When IBM makes a statement about something like this, they are a lot further along than you might think...

  14. I would rate air batteries as very much longshots in the race for practical battery packs. And the difference between the 320 mile range of the current Tesla Model S and 500 miles is not the criteria for choosing between those technologies. 320 miles AND
    ability to recharge in less than one hour, which Tesla can currently manage, is sufficient for all but a scarce few. Its the COST that's of prime importance at this point and Toyota and DBM Energy (which reportedly recently turned down an offer of 600 billion Euros from Samsung for their patents) have both estimated costs at between 10 and 20 percent of current costs for their batteries. Toyota claims production by 2015 or thereabouts. DBM Energy is very mum, but presumably is closer.

  15. Now that last sentence said it all for me; I never want to have to stop at another gas station for the rest of my life, and I will know that the fuel I put in my EV is 100% American made and we can tell the far east to shove it.

  16. "Just consider that for a second - 500 miles. That's enough to beat many internal combustion cars on sale today, and would certainly eliminate range anxiety."

    You can do well over 700 now and years before with flex-fuel vehicles and negative emissions--that is... clean up the air. :)

  17. Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly aware there are ICE cars with longer range - some diesels in Europe can manage as much as 900 miles or more - but a large number of the gasoline cars on sale in the U.S. today can do no more than around 500, often significantly less.

  18. A minimum of a 250 miles range will satisfy 99.9% of all drivers. Given a rapid charge ability of 45 minutes or less for a full charge you could get rid of your gasoline vehicle for good and use it for your daily driver as well as traveling cross country with it. I think Tesla has the right idea and 300 miles is a great range for an EV provided there is enough 440 volt rapid charging system set up in various locations around the country it could revolutionize of we travel. This is exciting news especially for people who want EV in sparsely populated areas such as Wyoming or Montana were there are long distances between cities.

  19. Tesla has it at 300 mile, more than most can sit through.
    Nissan can make 200+ but they want the cost to be reasonable for most drivers. Most only go 30-50 miles a day.

  20. But why limit range at 30 to 50 miles since people will need to travel long distances every once and a while and a car that can only go 30 to 50 miles will be at best an urban commuter car. Tesla has the right idea and they are trying to build EV that can not only compete with gasoline vehicles it can beat them as well. Any EV with less than 100 miles driving range will not sell well since they will require you to own a gasoline vehicle to make longer trips. The $57,500 Tesla Model S will go 160 miles on a full charge and will satisfy all but maybe 5% of drivers. They can opt for the 230 mile or even the 300 mile range and that will in effect eliminate range anxiety since EV's will really shine once gasoline goes over $4 a gallon.

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