It’s no secret that there are many criticisms levied towards electric vehicles (EVs). While some contain more validity than others, one of the more relevant issues concerning EVs centers on range anxiety and the ability of an electric car to get you to your final destination. According to an article in NewScientist, IBM is looking to address and solve the limited range issue by pioneering new battery technology that may allow for extended ranges of up to 500 miles – pushing EVs into a range where they would be able to compete with most gas-powered cars.
Currently, electric vehicles utilize lithium-ion batteries, which tend to be heavy and rarely exceed distances of 100 miles of driving before needing to be recharged. IBM however is seeking to change that with the refinement of newer lithium-air batteries which offer higher density levels than virtually all rechargeable batteries available today.
How is this achieved though, and why does it matter? Well, whereas typical lithium-ion batteries are extremely heavy, offering much lower energy densities and requiring more energy consumption (by nature of its weight). Lithium-air batteries are lighter, weighing down a vehicle much less and providing more energy while driving. And it isn’t a negligible difference either; the idea behind such batteries would (in theory) make its way to the consumer and cause batteries to cost less — since fewer batteries are likely cheaper.
Of course it isn’t all rosy on the other side of the (electrical) fence. While lithium-ion batteries do not carry nearly as much energy density as their lithium-air counterparts, lithium-ion is a much more stable beast because of lithium-air batteries tendency to demonstrate chemical instability. So while they might offer greater distances and weigh less, it isn’t always a sure thing, which is a huge pitfall when talking about driving long ranges.
And that brings us right back to IBM and its plans to corner the market on lithium-air batteries. Why would IBM decide to push forward and spend time and resources on such an already unstable technology? According to IBM, and physicists in Switzerland, by utilizing a Blue Gene supercomputer a solution to the instability issues is now” looking very promising.” If things pan out, IBM is hoping to have a full working prototype ready by 2013, with later commercial batteries to follow by 2020.
That, however, leaves the question of how relevant the technology will be in seven years time, but apparently that isn’t a concern of IBM’s. Regardless, as electric cars begin to become more prevalent and companies continue to press EVs, ways of expanding range and refining current battery technology needs to be explored.