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New Nickel-Lithium Batteries: Chance for 800 Miles Electric Car Autonomy

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The electric cars’ problem of a low mileage may have found its solution. Recently discovered Nickel-Lithium batteries have 3.5 times more energy than the standard Lithium-Ion batteries and besides this, they are much safer to use.

Lithium-Ion batteries have been a major breakthrough on the market as their storage capacity is much higher than that of lead-acid or nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries, but they have their disadvantages when it comes to reliability.

The major risks are that the Lithium-Ion batteries will can catch fire or explode. Another problem these batteries have is their weight. In order to have a decent mileage, the weight of the battery pack would increase too much, making the entire vehicle too heavy(and, thus, decreasing the mileage at the same time).

An electric passenger car needs about 25 kilowatt hours (kWh) of power to go 100 miles. For example, Tesla Roadster has a 53kWh Li-Ion battery pack and can run a little more than 200 miles.

But the thing is that its battery pack weighs(1000 pounds) about 1/3 of the entire car’s weight, which gives us 500 pounds of battery pack for 100 miles autonomy.

Scientists from Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology(AIST) hope to change this influencing factor. Separating two incompatible battery materials like Lithium and Nickel with a recently discovered special glass ceramic film called LISICON, the scientists have succeeded in making the world’s first Ni-Li battery. Besides the fact that it can hold more than 3.5 times the energy of Li-ion batteries, there is no risk of catching fire.

In a typical battery, an electrolyte separates the positively charged side (anode) by the negatively charged side (the cathode). The difference in potential between the 2 sides generates electricity. For Li-ion battery the electrolyte is an organic solid substance (part of what makes it catch fire). For both lead-acid and NiMH batteries the electrolyte is a liquid (the risk of catching fire is reduced). Because the cathode and anode materials both have to be compatible with the electrolyte, up to now the choice of the electrolyte materials has been restricted. But the discovery of the LISICON material has allowed the AIST researchers to place the cathode and anode in two completely different electrolytes. This has allowed the picking of different types of materials for the cathode and anode.

To take the best out of the NiMH and Li-ion batteries, nickel hydroxide cathode was put in a liquid electrolyte and lithium metal anode in an organic electrolyte separated by the LISICON glass. The result was a high density battery of about 194 watt hours per pound of battery material.

Only time will tell if this will be the next battery pack for electric cars, taking though into consideration that the LISICON glass may not be durable enough over the expected lifetime of the battery. When this point will be solved, electric cars will have an autonomy of about 700-800 miles, which I find really incredible.

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