IBM pushes for lithium-air powered cars

IBM has announced that Asahi Kasei and Central Glass will be joining its Battery 500 Project team. The trio will cooperate to further research how to move on IBM’s work into switching from petrol to electricity – and making it the primary power source for cars.

IBM Research has been working on this project since 2009, when it announced that it was looking into how to develop lithium-air battery technology that would eventually be able to power a family-sized electric car for approximately 500 miles (800 km) on a single charge.

According to IBM, this switch is to be one of the most important technology shifts of the first half of the 21st century. However, it pointed out that more work was needed – claiming that  
currently, electric vehicles can only travel about 100 miles before needing to recharge using today’s lithium-ion batteries.

It said that this was a huge barrier when it came to the adoption of electric cars and a new battery technology was needed to push this on.  

However, the company needs to find a way to match power with lightness. It said for a car running on today’s lithium-ion batteries to match the range provided by a tank of gasoline, car manufacturers would need a very large battery which would weigh down the car and take up too much space.

This is because lithium-air batteries have higher energy density than lithium-ion batteries, due to their lighter cathodes and the fact that their primary “fuel” is the oxygen readily available in the atmosphere.

IBM said that to push electric cars into the mainstream, an energy density ten times greater than that of conventional lithium-ion batteries was needed.

Its new partnerships with Asahi Kasei and Central Glass is said to bring “decades of materials innovation for the automotive industry to the team,” which is hoped to grow the project’s scope.

Japanese chemical manufacturer Asahi Kasei is said to bring its lithium battery membrane technology research into the mix, which IBM says will help create a critical component for lithium-air batteries.
Central Glass, manufacturer for electrolyte lithium-ion batteries, is said to use its chemical expertise in this field to create a new class of electrolytes and high-performance additives specifically designed to improve lithium-air batteries.