Look Out Energizer Bunny! Researchers May have Found the Key to EV Batteries

June 13th, 2012

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Whether it’s desire for more talk time or longer electric vehicle trips, a paper in Nature this week has a potential solution: lithium-air batteries. While the concept of lithium air batteries isn’t new, past research showed big limitations with both lifetime, often lasting only a few cycles, and ability to charge quickly. With new materials, Korean researchers may have found a solution to both of those problems, opening up this technology for the track to commercialization.

Lithium-air batteries could completely change whole industries, providing a lightweight, energy-dense source of power. Current battery technology, often lithium-ion, is roughly two orders of magnitude less energy-dense than gasoline, meaning that to replace a 12 gallon tank of gasoline you would need more than 2300 pounds of batteries. With lithium-air batteries, it’s possible to reach levels comparable to gasoline, a huge jump from current tech. Drivers would not have to worry about running out of gas – or electricity – again. Imagine an electric vehicle, whether the Tesla Roadster or Ford Fusion, with a battery range that was 30,000 miles, rather than the 90 to 300 miles we have today. Mobile gas-powered generators could become a thing of the past, replaced with rechargeable battery packs at construction sites or in disaster recovery areas. Laptops, mobile phones and other consumer electronics that rely on batteries could be completely redesigned.

As one of the major hurdles in clean energy, all energy storage breakthroughs are exciting, but like much early research, lithium-air batteries still face many challenges before we’ll see them in our devices. All technology involves tradeoffs, and battery technologies have to balance performance with life as well as cost and safety before getting to market. While real impact from lithium-air batteries is likely more than a decade off, if it happens, this breakthrough could put us on the path to new energy storage that could give our gasoline economy a run for its money.