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Toyota Plugs Away at the Next-Gen Electric-Car Battery

Magnesium-ion batteries promise to be cheaper and more energy-dense than lithium-ion ones.

Why It Matters

The high cost and limited capacity of lithium-ion batteries is holding back the electric vehicle industry.

Light and powerful lithium-ion batteries have allowed automakers to make electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles with ample acceleration and reasonable range and life. But lithium is expensive—the battery pack of the Nissan Leaf costs about $12,000—and the range of electric vehicles is still limited—about 138 miles per charge in ideal conditions for the Leaf—making the technology a tough sell for many drivers.

Toyota researchers are making steady progress in developing a battery that uses magnesium instead of lithium, and which could someday offer a cheaper and more energy-dense alternative.

Earlier this month, researchers at the Toyota Research Institute of North America (TRINA) in Michigan published a paper in the journal Chemical Communications that describes experiments involving a magnesium-ion battery with a new kind of anode, made of tin, and the same type of electrolytes used in lithium-ion batteries.

The tests showed promising performance and open the path for further research, says Nikhilendra Singh, the lead author of the pape
“The potential is definitely there,” Singh says. “There are some improvements we need to make to its performance, which we’ve addressed in the paper as well. But overall, we’re very excited.”

Magnesium is an abundant material, so magnesium-ion batteries promise to be cheap. Such batteries should also have a higher storage capacity than lithium-ion ones because magnesium ions have a positive charge of two, rather than one for lithium ions. A magnesium-ion battery could store more charge per gram, and that would translate into a longer driving range in a car or running time for consumer electronics. But the chemistry involved in making a magnesium-ion battery work efficiently has yet to be perfected.
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