Published on January 15th, 2012 | by Nicholas Brown


IBM Working on EV Battery with 500-Mile Range

January 15th, 2012 by  

Researcher Examining Li-ion Battery – Argonne National Laboratory

IBM has invented a lithium-air battery technology that makes it possible to drive electric vehicles (EVs) for 500 miles (804 km) per charge.

Lithium-air battery technology is not new, but it does have the potential to achieve unusually high energy densities that rival that of all rechargeable batteries in use today. The reason why batteries with higher energy densities enable EVs to drive further is simply because they are lighter (they have a better gravimetric energy density).

Lighter batteries weigh down the vehicle less, so it requires less energy to drive a given distance. This translates into more energy being available for driving. Each kWh (kilowatt-hour) of energy takes you further.

A greater gravimetric energy density can also mean that fewer batteries can be used to achieve the usual < 100-mile range, and this could be used to save money on the batteries instead (depending on their cost). Fewer batteries are, obviously, cheaper.

Typical lithium-ion batteries such as the lithium cobalt and lithium-iron phosphate batteries in use today are not able to store nearly as much energy per kg of their mass because of a lower energy density, and, as a result of this, EVs powered by them often have a driving range of less than 100 miles (160 km) per charge. They are, however, more practical than lithium-air batteries that have a reliability issue due to chemical instability.

Lithium-air batteries use carbon in their positive electrode (unlike typical li-ion batteries that use metal oxides, such as lithium cobalt oxide), and that carbon reacts with oxygen in the air to generate electricity. As I say sometimes, in other posts: Batteries do not store electricity, they generate it.

IBM’s Lithium-Ion Battery Technology

IBM decided to start work on these batteries somewhat recently due to their great potential and discovered that the oxygen in the air is not only reacting with the carbon electrode mentioned, but also with the battery’s electrolyte.

So, physicist Winfried Wilcke and his colleague Alessandro Curioni at IBM’s Zurich research labs in Switzerland used the Blue Gene supercomputer to simulate extremely detailed models of the reactions using alternative electrolytes until they finally found a more suitable one, which is confidential.

Winfried Wilcke said: “We now have one which looks very promising.”

The hope is to have a full-scale battery prototype operation by 2013 and commercial batteries around 2020.

h/t New Scientist | Photo Credit: Argonne National Laboratory

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About the Author

writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is:

  • Anonymous

    The only time weight affects range in an EV is accelerating and going uphill. When driving the majority of energy is expended overcoming rolling resistance and wind resistance. Sure an underinflated tire will use more energy on a heavier car, but you can overcome that by properly inflating it. In stop and go traffic, weight is an issue if you don’t have regenerative braking, otherwise you get quite a bit of it back.

    • Mary

      The only time weight affects range in an EV is accelerating and going uphill. When driving the majority of energy is expended overcoming rolling resistance and wind resistance.

      Very good statement, +100500

  • Dcard88

    What type of start up issues would cause a game changing battery to take 7 years to get to market? NONE

  • Ftp

    In this day and age, where utility companies are paying up to 400 per srec (Jersey)…hell, up to 570 in Mass., on OUR actual nickle…’d think our usually coddling Gov. would step in and save us, by subsidizing this technology with a tax incentive for IBM…ya, right……well, just why is it that exxon and ge get one?

  • PJA

    Available by 2020? IBM and Air Zinc batteries will be a distant memory by then. This type of response is what almost destroyed IBM when PC’s entered the scene.

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