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USA: Big ‘Green’? IBM works on 500 miles-per-charge battery

An electric car that can go from Boston to Detroit on a single charge could hit showroom floors sometime in the next decade, if all continues to go smoothly for IBM.

Yes, IBM. The company, best known these days for its trivia-champ computer Watson, is making a risky bet on the development of lithium-air battery technology in a bid to accelerate adoption of electric vehicles.

“Certainly, if it is successful, we stand to make some money,” Winfried Wilcke, the principal investigator of IBM’s Battery 500 Project, told me on Thursday. What’s more, he added, such a battery could expedite the transition away from reliance on oil. “That was really the trigger for me to start this project.”

Several electric vehicles are on the road today, but most of them have a range of 150 miles or less. The fear of running out of juice while driving around – known as range anxiety – is considered a major barrier to adoption of the technology.

Wilcke and his colleagues reckon that a car that can drive 500 miles or more on a single charge is sufficient to make such worries a thing of the past and convince people to fill up by plugging in.

How lithium-air works
Unlike the similar sounding lithium-ion batteries found in today’s electric vehicles that rely on heavy metal oxides to drive the chemical reactions that produce electricity, lithium-air batteries breathe in oxygen from the air. This allows them to be lighter and much more energy dense.

In theory, the oxygen combines with lithium ions in a chemical reaction that generates electricity and produces lithium peroxide. Upon recharge, the reaction is reversed, sending the oxygen back into the air.


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