A century ago, more automobiles were powered by electricity than by gasoline.
But the need for longer travel ranges, the availability of a more affordable fuel source and a reliable power infrastructure soon turned internal combustion engines into the predominant means of motor transportation.
Now drivers are considering a move away from gasoline and back to electricity as an ideal source for automotive power, but big challenges remain. IBM and partners are working on solving one of the biggest barriers to widespread electric vehicle adoption: limited battery range.
An antidote to 'range anxiety'
Most people consider switching to electric vehicles to save money on gas and contribute to a healthier environment. But "range anxiety," the fear of being stranded with no power, was cited by 64 percent of consumers as a main detractor to buying an electric vehicle.
Electric cars today typically can travel only about 100 miles on current battery technology, called lithium-ion (LIB). LIB technology stands little chance of being light enough to travel 500 miles on a single charge and cheap enough to be practical for a typical family car. This problem is creating a significant barrier to electric vehicle adoption.
Recognizing this, IBM started the Battery 500 project in 2009 to develop a new type of lithium-air battery technology that is expected to improve energy density tenfold, dramatically increasing the amount of energy these batteries can generate and store. Today, IBM researchers have successfully demonstrated the fundamental chemistry of the charge-and-recharge process for lithium-air batteries.
5 things to know
1. IBM researchers are exploring the science of lithium-air batteries, capable of powering an electric car at least 500 miles on a single charge.
2. Lithium-air batteries borrow oxygen from the air as the vehicle is being driven, creating an air-breathing battery and enabling extended range from a single charge.
3. Electric car batteries will be lighter due to the elimination of heavy metal oxide used in electric car batteries today.
4. IBM researchers at the Almaden and Zurich labs are collaborating on the Battery 500 project with teams from around the world, including Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
5. Improved battery performance has the potential to spur electric vehicle adoption, an increasingly important issue for national governments and civil leaders, with the goal of decreasing dependency on oil and improving environmental conditions.
According to New Scientist,
The lithium-air cell battery, is more attractive because it has theoretical energy densities more than 1000 times greater than the Li-ion type, putting it almost on a par with gasoline. Instead of using metal oxides in the positive electrode, lithium-air cells use carbon, which is lighter and reacts with oxygen from the air around it to produce an electrical current.
But there's a problem. Chemical instabilities limit their lifespan when recharging, making them impractical for use in cars. So researchers studied the underlying electrochemistry of these cells using a form of mass spectrometry. What they found was that oxygen is reacting not just with the carbon electrode, as it was known to, but also with the electrolytic solvent - the conducting solution that carries the lithium ions between the electrodes.
However, if the electrolyte reacts with the oxygen when the car is in use it will eventually be depleted. So the researchers used a Blue Gene supercomputer to run extremely detailed models of the reactions to look for alternative electrolytes. This included a form of atomistic modelling right down to the quantum mechanics of the components.
"We now have one which looks very promising," says physicist Winfried Wilcke at IBM's Almaden laboratories. He won't reveal what material it is but says that several research prototypes have already been demonstrated. And as part of Battery 500, an IBM-led coalition involving four US national laboratories and commercial partners, the hope is to have a full-scale prototype ready by 2013, with commercial batteries to follow by around 2020.
For more attend Electric Vehicles Land Sea Air USA 2012 ,where Phoenix International - A John Deere Company (leader in agricultural vehicles), BMW (cars etc), Mitsubishi Motors (small commercial vehicles and cars),
Also read Range Extenders for Electric Vehicles 2011-2021 and Electric Vehicle Traction Batteries 2011-2021 .
Sources: IBM, New Scientist
Image source: IBM