Pictures Seven Ingredients for Better Electric Car Batteries

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Pictures: Seven Ingredients for Electric Car Batteries

Nanotubes: Up Energy Storage

Photograph by Thiessen, National Geographic

A perches on carbon nanotubes between copper wires; scientists believe these straws—each about 10,000 thinner than a human —hold big promise for better to power plug-in cars.

is just one material in a whole of ingredients being treated and in new ways in hopes of concocting a that lasts longer, less, stores more delivers greater bursts of and occupies less space the lithium-ion batteries commonly today. About a dozen new vehicle models are set to hit the road the end of this year, but most predict only slow penetration of  EVs—due mainly to the costs and unwieldiness of today’s

If you open up a laptop, most of the estate is the battery, said Persson. a research chemist the U.S. Department of Energy’s Berkeley National Lab. in cars, the battery takes up too space.

The T-shaped battery in General Motors’ plug-in Chevy Volt, for example, nearly 400 pounds and extends than five feet the length of the car, allowing for only two passengers in the back

But what if a smaller battery deliver the same amount of It would enable manufacturers of electronics and plug-in cars to do other fancy stuff that space, said a co-founder of the magnesium-ion battery Pellion Technologies. She also is a of the Materials Project. a joint by the Berkeley lab and the Massachusetts Institute of to create a searchable database of the of tens of thousands of compounds, and to those of new compounds using

Think of battery cells as a The two slices of bread are electrodes—one, the cathode, has a positive charge. The known as the anode, has a negative Squished between them mayonnaise is an electrolyte made of solvents.

Positively charged ions shuttle back and through the electrolyte during and discharging. But each electrode has to store only so many limiting battery capacity. part of why the search is on for new ingredients—if the can hold more ions, the can store more energy.

The anodes in today’s lithium-ion are graphite—a form of carbon. But believe that nanotubes, those shown above, of from one-atom-thick sheets of rolled into hollow could support faster and discharging, thanks to more area.

The electrodes work as a so the battery’s capacity is limited by the with less room for In today’s batteries, that’s the

Carbon itself is very but you need to change the structure to use it in batteries, Persson explained, it must be processed at very temperatures. The carbon we use in anodes is not the we tend to dig out of the ground.

— Josie

Published September 14, 2012

Abundant and Stable

Photograph by Nir Reuters

A worker piles onto a cart at a silicon-manganese factory in Longsheng, in southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous

Coal and manganese typically hand-in-hand today as essential in steelmaking. But manganese also an important role in the bid for cleaner It’s a key ingredient in the batteries to power the Nissan Leaf, Volt, and Fisker Karma.

was used by ancient people in the Desert in South America to skeletons. Thanks to its durability, it has been found to have properties for energy storage. oxide batteries are more than those made of oxide, which are widely in consumer electronics, but can lead to runaway problems if overheated.

said Persson, is the one we try to put in all the batteries if we

It’s also relatively and abundant, although resources are not evenly around the world. Africa has 75 percent of the world’s manganese resources; China and follow as top producers.

Manganese has one drawback: a troubling tendency to in the electrolyte. It migrates over to the and attacks the anode, said This hinders battery important consideration for cars are meant to last 15 years or on the road.

We’ve been trying to this problem for a long Persson says.

Envia a start-up company in Newark, has attracted investment from Motors’ venture capital arm and from the U.S. government its plan for a lower cost, energy density battery a manganese-rich cathode and an anode of silicon-carbon nanocomposites.

Arun then-director of the U.S. Department of Advanced Research Projects (ARPA-E), cited Envia in on Capitol Hill earlier year on why battery research was The record-setting energy density achieved in its design (400 per kilogram) could mean the between paying $40 for fuel to a gas car from Washington, D.C. to New or paying $6 for electricity to make the trip in an EV,  he said.

 The is that such a battery as of now, would cost ARPA-E’s goal is to reduce the of batteries so that electric can have comparable range and as gasoline-based cars so that can be sold without subsidies, and our dependence on imported petroleum, he

Published September 14, 2012

Lightweight, High Capacity

by Bobby Haas, National

A plow carves pinstripes snow-white fields of lithium the edge of northern Chile’s salt flat, Salar de Lithium is the element that has portable rechargeable electronics to the and has paved the way for today’s electric

I think we’re going to be with lithium for a while, Persson. It’s still the one that’s feasible today. In the past several years, the hydride battery chemistry for hybrids including the Toyota has given way to lithium-ion chemistries offer twice the energy for the same weight and bulk.

But are practical limitations to lithium-ion including the time they to recharge. They still add too weight and bulk to vehicles. And are political reasons to look lithium. You can’t dig it out of the ground said Persson. You need mines that have the

Much of the world’s lithium are controlled by Bolivia, China, and latter is by far the world’s top producer.

concern is safety. Drop a piece of lithium in water, and it psshhhh, Persson said, a common grade school lab in which the lithium metal its electrons to the water and forms hydroxide and bubbling hydrogen. But cool in science class careful management in a car.

always going to be slightly putting it in water. But it’s the best element, Persson Because of it’s high it also comes with a voltage.

Battery innovation not always go as planned. Nanophosphate battery maker A123 backed by $249 million in government grants, won contracts to batteries for the plug-in hybrid Karma and the upcoming electric Spark from General But amid slower-than-expected EV sales, that forced A123 to batteries in Fisker models this year, and nearly $83 in losses for the second quarter, turned to Chinese auto Wanxiang Group for emergency

Eventually, Wanxiang is expected to own up to 80 of A123 with a total million investment.

Published 14, 2012

Copper: Metal for a Charge

Photograph by George National Geographic

The rock of a century-old open-pit copper in Chile fans out into a covering 3 square miles (8 kilometers) and plunging nearly feet (600 meters)

This mine in Chuquicamata, dates back to 1911, to copper’s long history as a metal. Copper cathodes were deployed in the original back in 1800. While practice fell out of fashion ago, copper could a shining role in the future of if early-stage work with the in nanowire form pans

Typically copper is used as a collector in batteries, not as an electrode Like manganese, it tends to in the electrolyte, Persson said. And relatively expensive.

Yet Prieto a start-up spun out of Colorado University, has prototyped a lithium-ion that swaps out the conventional in the anode for nanowires constructed copper and antimonide. These are times thinner than a hair, and Prieto claims can store twice as many ions as state-of-the-art graphite materials. With further the technology could pave the way for cars that can get a full in minutes, rather than

Published September 14, 2012

A Flavor for Power

Photograph by Steinmetz, Corbis

Tourists photos as they tread on accretions in the Dead Sea Works evaporation ponds, near resorts in Ein, Israel.

The deposit about 8 inches (20 of edible salt, or sodium per year. Huge evaporation located to the south are used to potash, magnesium, and bromides the salt.

Going from to magnesium, you’re losing but you’re doubling the capacity. also dirt cheap and the most abundant element in the crust, said Persson, company Pellion Technologies is a battery featuring a magnesium anode. Of course, magnesium ore to be processed in order to perform in a battery, Persson said, but at on the element level it is not expensive.


Eliica (Electric Lithium-Ion Car)

low-cost sodium offers an alternative—or possibly companion—to There are a lot of commonalities between and sodium, so it’s a drop-in said Persson. Researchers Tokyo Science University developed a rechargeable battery oxides of sodium, iron, and for the positive electrode, and sodium for the negative electrode.

The device is to hold a charge on par with batteries, while relying on more widely available

Meanwhile, General Electric has a battery system for heavy and delivery trucks that sodium and lithium technology combining the pickup that passenger EVs have with the storage that big industrial offer, according to a statement the company. Lithium batteries a lot of power for acceleration, but are not optimized to energy for driving range, GE Capable of storing large of energy but falling short on sodium batteries are a logical

Safety, however, remains a spot for sodium batteries. has a very, very low melting Persson said. You tend to these pockets of sodium deposited all over the cell. like lithium metal, metal is very reactive. As as you have any kind of alkali around in the battery, that is a reactive component.

As soon as you anything up, then that part is going to spark.

September 14, 2012

Silicon: A Advantage

Photograph by Peter Corbis

A bird’s-eye view of Chilean silicon mine a litmus strip cast a cocoa-colored landscape. Theoretically, can store ten times more than the graphite commonly in lithium-ion batteries today.

anodes, that’s a great said Persson. The element is making up more than of the Earth’s crust. And years of with extremely pure in the semiconductor industry has produced a lot of about how to make it cheap.

But challenges remain, largely silicon swells during It’s like blowing up a Persson explains. If you paint a on that balloon, blow it up, and deflate it, the layer will off. So you have to reform it.

time that layer you’re losing active Every cycle, you’re active material and losing

Published September 14, 2012

A Breath of the Future

Photograph University of Dayton Research

In the search for plentiful, cheap, and light-weight battery ingredients, could be more enticing the idea of harnessing the very air we

The cell pictured here, in 2009 by the University of Dayton Institute’s electrochemical power was billed as the first solid-state, lithium-oxygen battery, designed to the fire and explosion risks of lithium rechargeable batteries.

The researchers employed a solid material for the electrolyte, rather liquid electrolytes, which can cause corrosion, and produce reactions. Rather than all the necessary chemicals inside the one of the chemicals—oxygen—is left out, engineer Binod Kumar in an announcement about his lithium-oxygen Oxygen is extracted from the air and used in the cathode.

Oxygen is obviously tremendously and cheap—very cheap, Persson The problem is you really only the oxygen. You can’t tolerate any so you have to separate oxygen the hydrogen and everything else in the

At this point, lithium-oxygen is very much a moon If it works, it could enable with 10 times the capacity of lithium-ion batteries, cars can travel up to 500 miles (800 and cell phones that can a week of calls on a single

But despite recent advances a recent Scottish study a lithium-oxygen battery with a electrode that could charge-discharge cycles without a heap of problems remain to be It’s not a drop-in replacement for the lithium batteries, Persson It needs air ducts and filters and all of plumbing, basically, to make it

It needs a lot of device engineering it. What’s more, the chemistry unbelievably reactive agents, lithium peroxide, which from oxygen mixing lithium ions. She said, things that stand up to not easy.

Published September 14,

Next: Photos: Rare Inside Carmakers’ Drive for 55 MPG

by Jeffrey Sauger, National

Published September 14, 2012

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