Tesla Motors - Model S lithium-ion battery pack
Alkaline batteries have been a staple energy source for decades, but their potential has been capped by their chemical properties.
Notably, alkaline batteries cannot be recharged, which means their application is often limited to single uses in small devices such as flashlights and remote controls.
An alkaline battery finding its way to an electric car has been viewed as all but impossible, while lithium-ion batteries have become the industry standard.
However, a startup company says it has unlocked the secret to safer, more powerful alkaline batteries with a solid-state variant it suggests holds potential to revolutionize the industry.
Battery start-up Ionic says it has developed a solid-state alkaline battery that can be recharged hundreds of times, according to The New York Times, and does not carry the combustion risks of some lithium-ion battery chemistries.
Prototype units of the new alkaline battery have been recharged up to 400 times, Ionic says, but the company believes it can triple this figure with further effort.
2014 Honda Accord Hybrid battery pack
If the technology and engineering proves effective, a second practical battery chemistry might have large effects on multiple industries—including the automotive arena.
Current lithium-ion batteries are expensive, despite the drop in cost over time, and use various metals—nickel and cobalt are two—that can be expensive and whose mining is often anything but clean.
At present, Ionic's prototype batteries weigh more than a traditional lithium-ion unit of the same energy capacity, but they're made from zinc and manganese, which are less expensive and more abundant than, say, cobalt.
Save for the weight penalty, then, Ionic's batteries offer potential cost savings and raw-material benefits.
Though it gave few details, the company also noted that aluminum is a possible raw material to replace zinc in the future, despite its tendency to corrode.
Technician secures cover on ithium-ion battery pack at Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tennessee
Aluminum batteries, however, would reduce the weight of the alkaline units and offer performance that is more comparable to that of lithium-ion batteries.
Overall, technology improvements in battery technology have incremental, with revolutionary advances few and far between.
Volkswagen and Tesla have been relatively outspoken about the need for vastly increased battery production to ensure cell supply doesn't fall short of demand as electric cars gain traction and production volumes increase.
It remains to be seen if alkaline batteries will one day power something as large as an electric car, but Ionic seems determined to push the envelope as far as it can.