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“Breathing” battery can power electric vehicles over 300 miles on one charge

Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) nearly doubled in 2013, but most won’t travel further than 100 miles on one charge. To boost their range toward an impressive 300 miles or more, researchers are reporting new progress on a “breathing” battery that has the potential to one day replace the lithium-ion technology of today’s EVs.

“Lithium-air batteries are lightweight and deliver a large amount of electric energy,” said Nobuyuki Imanishi, Ph.D. “Many people expect them to one day be used in electric vehicles.”

The main difference between lithium-ion and lithium-air batteries is that the latter replaces the traditional cathode — a key battery component involved in the flow of electric current — with air.

That makes the rechargeable metal-air battery lighter with the potential to pack in more energy than its commercial counterpart.

While lithium-air batteries have been touted as an exciting technology to watch, they still have some kinks that need to be worked out. Researchers are forging ahead on multiple fronts to get the batteries to the commercial stage before they debut under the hood.

One of the main components researchers are working on is the batteries’ electrolytes, materials that conduct electricity between the electrodes. There are currently four electrolyte designs, one of which involves water.

The advantage of this “aqueous” design over the others is that it protects the lithium from interacting with gases in the atmosphere and enables fast reactions at the air electrode. The downside is that water in direct contact with lithium can damage it.

Seeing the potential of the aqueous version of the lithium-air battery, Imanishi’s team at Mie University in Japan tackled this issue. Adding a protective material to the lithium metal is one approach, but this typically decreases the battery power.

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