IBM Creates High-density, Light-weight Lithium-air Battery

on April 20, 2012 12:45 PM EDT

Battery
During discharge (driving), oxygen from the air reacts with lithium ions, forming lithium peroxide on a carbon matrix. Upon recharge, the oxygen is given back to the atmosphere and the lithium goes back onto the anode. (Photo: IBM)

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.

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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.

In 2012, industry leaders Central Glass and Asahi Kasei joined the project. Each brings a history of electric vehicle materials innovation to help IBM put research on the road.

The Battery 500 project was developed out of the Almaden Institute, an annual forum that brings together eminent, innovative thinkers from academia, government, industry, research labs and the media for an intellectually charged, stimulating and vigorous dialogue that addresses fundamental challenges at the very edge of science and technology. The partnerships born out of this event range from university and national laboratory collaborations to connections across IBM research labs and with industry experts, all forming a dynamic, multi-disciplinary team, focusing on unique aspects of the project.

Source: IBM

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