The switch from gasoline to electricity as the primary power source for vehicles stands to be one of the most important technology shifts of the first half of the 21st century. Recognizing this need, scientists at IBM Research-Almaden started the Battery 500 Project in 2009 to develop a Lithium-Air battery that could travel 500 miles on a single charge. Leveraging IBM's leadership across science and technology in chemistry, physics, nanotechnology and supercomputing modeling in both its Almaden and Zurich laboratories, this research is also done in conjunction with the other Battery 500 Project collaborators, including national laboratories.

An electric car concept we'd love to be implemented!

An electric car concept we'd love to be implemented!

IBM has also announced that two industry leaders – Asahi Kasei and Central Glass – will now join its Battery 500 Project team and collaborate on the research with the potential to accelerate the switch from gasoline to electricity as the primary power source for vehicles. In 2009, IBM Research pioneered a sustainable mobility project to develop lithium-air battery technology capable of powering a family-sized electric car for approximately 500 miles (800 km) on a single charge. As partners in the Battery 500 Project, Asahi Kasei and Central Glass bring decades of materials innovation for the automotive industry to the team. They will expand the project's scope and, although the scientific and engineering challenges to its practical implementation are extremely high, exploring several chemistries simultaneously increases the chance of success of this gargantuan project.

Asahi Kasei, one of Japan's leading chemical manufactures and a leading global supplier of separator membrane for lithium-ion batteries, will use its experience in innovative membrane technology to create a critical component for lithium-air batteries. Central Glass, a global electrolyte manufacturer for lithium-ion batteries, will 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.

Most electric vehicles can only travel about 100 miles before needing to recharge using today's lithium-ion batteries. This is a significant barrier to electric car adoption unless a new battery technology can be developed that is affordable, lightweight, compact and has the capacity to power a typical family car several hundred miles or more on a single charge. 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. 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. To popularize electric cars, an energy density ten times greater than that of conventional lithium-ion batteries is needed, and these new partners to the project can help drive lithium-air technology towards that goal.

This research is taking place at IBM Research, Almaden in California. The switch to electric cars is definitely on the cards, the only question now is, when will it actually happen? 

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