By Josh Zepps, energyNow!
Range anxiety, or concerns about how far electric vehicles will travel on a single charge, is one of the biggest limitations facing the EV industry. In fact, a recent survey said only 20 percent of American drivers would consider buying an EV with a 100-mile range. But what if EVs could drive 500 miles on a single charge?
That’s exactly what one of America’s most innovative companies is working on. energyNOW! correspondent Josh Zepps looked under the hood of a next generation battery design that uses nanotechnology to make EVs more powerful than ever.
IBM invented many of the computing technologies we take for granted today: the floppy disk, personal computer, barcode, and hard drive, to name a few. Now, the company is turning its sights on meeting a different type of technological challenge – the electric vehicle battery
Wilcke and his team are working on an EV battery with ten times the energy density and five times the range of today’s batteries. Current EV batteries use the same lithium-ion technology as cell phones and laptops and have a range of around 75 miles on a single charge. In addition to limited range, lithium-ion batteries are bulky and heavy, representing higher costs for EVs.
So what sets IBM’s battery apart? The secret could be is air. A lithium-ion battery contains heavy metals like cobalt oxide or manganese oxide and shuttles lithium between a graphite anode and metal oxide cathode as the battery is charged and discharged.
Lithium-air batteries, on the other hand, don’t carry the chemicals necessary to work. When it releases electricity, it borrows oxygen from the surrounding air to form lithium oxide. When it’s recharging, it releases oxygen back into the air. This saves space and mass, meaning a lighter battery that stores much more energy per pound.
IBM is also working to reduce the weight of their 500-mile battery by switching heavy metal oxide cathodes with nanotechnology carbon cathodes. Nanoengineering the carbon is imperative to increase the battery’s total charge, because it creates a larger surface mass than natural carbon.
The 500-mile EV battery seems far off now, but IBM could start commercial production of the new battery by 2020. Even though the project is complicated and might not work, the prospect of an EV engine with the same size, weight, price, range and performance of a gasoline engine is too much to resist for IBM’s researchers. “A high-tech company has an obligation really, to help the environment and the world,” said Wilcke.
The full segment is available below: