Electric vehicles have a Catch-22 problem. Widespread adoption isn’t likely until costs come down. But the latter relies heavily on the former.
Batteries play a big part in the conundrum. Not only from a cost standpoint, but also as the key component to reducing range anxiety and reducing charging times.
This has resulted in an industrywide scramble for a next-gen solution. Potential “breakthroughs” are announced weekly—mostly involving solid-state technologies. The latest news comes from IBM Research, which claims the chemistry it’s developing is cheaper, more powerful, faster to charge, less volatile and more sustainable than current lithium-ion units.
Heavy Metals Off the Play List
IBM is no stranger to battery development. The tech giant has a dedicated battery lab, where it has been devising new formulations for more than a decade. Its latest handiwork features three proprietary materials extracted from seawater in place of mined heavy metals, which tend to be pricey and hard to come by.
IBM Research Lab. Source: IBM
The design teams a cathode material that contains no cobalt or nickel with what they describe as a “safe” liquid electrolyte with a high flash point. Initial tests have shown the combination suppresses the growth of lithium dendrites, which can zap performance and increase flammability risks.
Among the purported benefits are:
- Charging to 80% capacity in less than five minutes
- More than 90% energy efficiency
- Power and energy densities equivalent to current best-in-class lithium-ion units
IBM aims to have working prototypes of its battery system ready in about a year. Next steps include employing atomic force microscopy and an artificial intelligence technique called semantic enrichment to help identify even safer and higher performance materials.
To help speed the initiative, the company is working with researchers at Mercedes-Benz, electrolyte supplier Central Glass and batterymaker Sidus Optoelectronics. But IBM cautions that the technology is still in the early development phase and may never be commercialized.
The little car that could still can. And this time as a car that not only gets great fuel economy, but which has ride and handling that makes it more than an econo-box (and its styling is anything but boxy).
Lithium-ion batteries have become the technology of choice for EVs, and falling costs and rising energy levels could keep them on top for nearly two decades.
The engineers at Munro & Associates have taken a perfectly sound BMW i3 and taken it apart. Completely apart. And they are impressed with what they’ve discovered about how the EV is engineered.