One nagging issue with electric vehicles is range. While today's lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are much better than yesterday's nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries, they still don't offer enough energy storage to take an EV much further than 100 miles without a lengthy recharge. Even if the Li-ion batteries were up to the challenge, there is still the awkward problem of where to pack 1,000 pounds (or more) of bulky storage cells into a vehicle's chassis.

IBM thinks it has a solution with a promising new lithium-air (Li-air) battery. According to the technology giant, a typical Li-air battery cell has a theoretical energy density more than 1,000 times greater than today's industry-standard Li-ion battery cell. Even better, Li-air batteries are one-fifth the size and they offer a lifespan at least five times as long.

So, what has been holding IBM back? It appears that there was a problem with the the original Li-air automotive application, as frequent recharging cycles compromised battery life. However, the engineers have recently found alternative electrolyte compounds that look very promising. The team's goal is to have a full-scale prototype ready by 2013, with commercial batteries on sale by the end of the decade.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 86 Comments
      Kris
      • 2 Years Ago
      Call me stupid with my Electronics Engineer degree, but I have a question. Maybe I lost something in the translation (my birth language is not English), but something here looks wrong to me. The question: "they offer a lifespan at least five times as long" and "frequent recharging cycles compromised battery life" - which one is true?
        montoym
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Kris
        You also missed a key line right after the "frequent recharging cycles" part. quote - "However, the engineers have recently found alternative electrolyte compounds that look very promising." -
          Kris
          • 2 Years Ago
          @montoym
          It had nothing to do with my question. That's why I missed it.
        r_r
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Kris
        May be they meant that if you do complete charge/discharge cycle, it would last 5 times as long as Li-ion batteries. It lasts long, but it had severe memory effect.
          Kris
          • 2 Years Ago
          @r_r
          I didn't thought of that. Maybe you are on to something.
      bman78
      • 2 Years Ago
      I hope they can match those claims but i am not going to hold my breath
      IBx27
      • 2 Years Ago
      Our friend works at IBM as a chemical engineer, and after getting an idea of the kinds of stuff they do, I don't doubt they could make this technology work.
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        clquake
        • 2 Years Ago
        In response, Nissan, unlike Tesla who sued, provided NEW charging points so the trip could be better.
      RussellJ
      • 2 Years Ago
      Nice to see IBM venturing into a field that has the potential to bring some change to the automotive world. Here's hoping it works out...
      Lachmund
      • 2 Years Ago
      i believe it when i see it. still, i wonder which kind of sabotage the oil lobby is planning ;o)
      harlanx6
      • 2 Years Ago
      If IBM can pull this off, this is groundbreaking. It's game changer for EVs. The only question is the cost of production. This would be the single most important breakthrough in the history of the automobile.
      Mike Callen
      • 2 Years Ago
      Ok, somebody smart help us with the math here. I can see that if you simply use the statistic that Li-air cells are 1/5 the size, then you could pack 5 times more of them in the same 1,000lbs space (although I'd say that you could increase the range maybe 20ish miles by simply removing the 800lbs) and go 500 miles. Where does the "theoretical energy density more than 1,000 times greater than today's industry-standard Li-ion battery" come in and why is the range not much greater than 500?
        lne937s
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Mike Callen
        Lithium Air batteries use ambient air to complete part of the chemicle reaction. Their power output (kW) is low compared to their energy capacity (kw/h or power over time), which has to do with the rate at which they are able to extract power from ambient air. To put out the same power, you need a battery ~1/5th the size. To contain the same amount of energy (power over time), they can be theoretically 1/1000th the size. The big advantage of lithium air batteries is (like intenal combustion engine cars that don't carry around many kilograms of air along with them) they use ambient air to complete the chemical reaction. However, the need to use air can slow charge times and makes them relatively more energy dense than power dense.
          lne937s
          • 2 Years Ago
          @lne937s
          BTW, perhaps the best application of Li Air would be in combination with Lithium Ion or potentially even a super capacitor. Li Air would be sized to provide average power needs (i.e. cruising), whereas the Li Ion or Cap would provide power for accelleration and accept a charge from regenerative braking. However, quick charging infrastructure might put a higher emphasis on faster charging, rather than energy density. Perhaps, the smaller li-air batteries could be swapped out to add range for longer trips.
        GearheadGeek
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Mike Callen
        Just a guess about the energy density vs. size thing... I don't think energy density is storage per unit volume, I think it's storage per unit MASS. So, it's conceivable that the battery can't be packaged as small as the big jump in energy density might suggest. It's also possible that the theoretical energy density isn't something that's likely to be attained in commercial production in the foreseeable future, so they're estimating what's probable rather than what's theoretically possible "someday."
      throwback
      • 2 Years Ago
      If true IBM would make another fortune. Imagine these types of batteries in a cell phone, tablet or laptop.
      delsolo1
      • 2 Years Ago
      An electric car with a five hundred mile is not good news for the Arabs or the Republicans.
        Sox05
        • 2 Years Ago
        @delsolo1
        That's what they get for not wanting to help the automobile company's.
        reconfreya
        • 2 Years Ago
        @delsolo1
        Retarded much? Dems love to chase jobs out the country with their regulation, every growing tax structures, and kissing up to their Union goon bed fellows. SLAP!
          EvilTollMan
          • 2 Years Ago
          @reconfreya
          Bottom line here is all politicians are bad for America. Man, that sounds very anarchist. What I should say is; All politicians from the past couple decades have been bad for America.
        IBx27
        • 2 Years Ago
        @delsolo1
        Republicans like American companies and their ingenuity and innovation. People should be happy that we're still making something.
          TMTexas
          • 2 Years Ago
          @IBx27
          Justifying your resume on a relatively anonymous message board does little to improve the silly argument you wagered with your original comment. I'll take your last reply as a concession and chalk up a W. Thanks.
          DrEvil
          • 2 Years Ago
          @IBx27
          Wrong, Republicans / Vulture Capitalists will be soon looking at ways to OUTSOURCE these jobs. That is the crux of the problem. Leave it to them, they'd outsource breast feeding if they think they could make a quick buck off it. It's not so much that Republicans / Vulture Capitalists are bad, its just that they are bad for AMERICA.
          foobar222
          • 2 Years Ago
          @IBx27
          Yep, Repubs only look at ways to line thier own pockets. Cheep labor=obscene profits. The party of the Obscene!!
          TMTexas
          • 2 Years Ago
          @IBx27
          DrEvil - What a silly comment to make. First off, this pure R&D at this point, no production jobs are in play. Secondly, if this sort of work was so easily outsourced, as you insinuate it is, why haven't I seen announcements from India, China, or Bangladesh about their groundbreaking new technologies? Oh that's right, WE invent the technology, all they do is assemble it. I'll happily concede menial manufacturing labor for the brain trust at IBM and other such firms. Nobody is outsourcing anything. And if you haven't noticed, certain high tech manufacturers, like Intel, still operate production facilities in this country. Post an educated comment if you're going to post at all. And as for VENTURE capital, if it weren't for those types of investors, we might not have computers or an internet to even have this discussion. Stop being a partisan tool.
          DrEvil
          • 2 Years Ago
          @IBx27
          TMTexas: I worked on Wall Street (JPMC) to be exact, I know the culture. How many of the following American inventions of the last 30 years are currently made in the USA today? Microwave Ovens GPS systems Cellular Phones iPods iPads Hey, DIY: even John Deere & Catapillar make their products overseas and re-import them back into the US.
          Frank
          • 2 Years Ago
          @IBx27
          "I believe in the Venture Capitalist system. " No what you believe in the stupid drivel from left wing websites like huff po and move on. Then you regurgitate their talking points here. Like someone else said, stop being a political tool and TALK ABOUT THE TOPIC. Enough politics. /rant
          DrEvil
          • 2 Years Ago
          @IBx27
          TMTexas: My point was that within 5 - 10 years, these batteries would be made in Malaysia or China.
          2 Wheeled Menace
          • 2 Years Ago
          @IBx27
          "Republicans like American companies and their ingenuity and innovation. People should be happy that we're still making something." Unless it interferes with their oil masters. Then it's the worst thing on the planet, will ruin this country, and oh, there pops up a half dozen new 'non-partisan policy research groups' to fight it.
          DrEvil
          • 2 Years Ago
          @IBx27
          Texas Duh - Funny thing about you thinking I worked in JPMC's mailroom. I guess I have an inside track on fortune 100 mail-room jobs. Because the IBM Corp. that you speak of, I also worked for them in White Plains, NY, as I did for Lockheed Martin in Florida , Bloomberg, KPMG (Not publicly traded) and Xerox in NJ. Guess I am the mack-daddy of mailroom clerks.
          TMTexas
          • 2 Years Ago
          @IBx27
          DrEvil - I couldn't care less what bailedout financial institution's mail room you used to work in. Letting a political party piss on your leg and tell you it's raining isn't going to win you any arguments. Your blatant partisan hackery is evidence of your biased outlook. I'm conservative and also a lover of all things powered by oil, but this sort of tech get me excited because it showcases American prowess without the need for government assistance. If that short list of five items is all you can think of when it comes to American inventions then I feel sorry for you. Apparently the rock you live under is the only thing that overshadows your political lap dogging. We live and work in a global economy, things are imported and exported everywhere. I should hope these batteries can be made in Malaysia in 5-10 years, that means we've perfected and simplified the technology enough that third world labor can assemble it en masse. Then, the bright minds at IBM can move on to the next big thing. Your attitide reminds me of this: "At one of our dinners, Milton recalled traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a worksite where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: "You don't understand. This is a jobs program." To which Milton replied: "Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it's jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels."
      Nexus7
      • 2 Years Ago
      A revolutionary better battery is always around the corner... Hybrids are the US way of avoiding looking the truth in the eye - namely, turbo-diesel. 'Cause the Big 3 (their US-based operations) make the worst diesels on the planet.
        TMTexas
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Nexus7
        The Big 3 all have access to fantastic diesel technology. Ford, GM, and Chrysler's european operations produce VERY fine diesels, I've had experience with all three. You want to "blame" someone for diesel accessibility in this country, call up the EPA and whine to them. It's their regulations and the divergence with EU regs that forbid Euro diesels from working here. Euro 6 will bring us closer, but still not congruent.
          Frank
          • 2 Years Ago
          @TMTexas
          "You want to "blame" someone for diesel accessibility in this country, call up the EPA and whine to them. It's their regulations and the divergence with EU regs that forbid Euro diesels from working here." Ding, ding, ding! You win!
          TMTexas
          • 2 Years Ago
          @TMTexas
          rocketmoose - And my post said "access to". So Ford's (PSA's), or GM's (Opel, VM), or Chrysler (VM) all have great diesels. Having driven them all, I've been impressed. Most recently I drove an Insignia CTDI-4 6MT through Italy. 750+ miles to one tank of diesel and it was FUN to drive. I'd say they make a fine diesel.
          rocketmoose
          • 2 Years Ago
          @TMTexas
          Ford doesn't really build diesels. PSA do most of the work. Chysler's diesels are ropey, though Fiat's recent diesels are very smooth indeed. GM's diesels are middle of the road.
        slap
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Nexus7
        The US-based operations can get ahold of their european division's excellent diesel technology. But most Americans don't want diesels, so the cost vs payback of getting a diesel certified by the government and engineering changes needed to put in a car doesn't work
      paulinator66
      • 2 Years Ago
      So now I'll be able to go to my brother's house (450 miles away) but, in order to get home, HE pays to refill my car instead of me paying for it at the gas station like I do now. Hmm, I think I like this idea. He'll probably think twice about inviting me over once I get a plug-in.
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