Ways to Make Electric Cars Comfortable with Their Range

Pioneering environmental reporter Geoffrey Lean sees promise Better Place's charging and battery exchange network

Published: 12-Jan-2012

No fewer than four new electric cars are due to be launched in Britain over the next few months – joining the assault on the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming – with models from Renault, Ford, Honda and Mitsubishi due to hit the showrooms. But the so-called "Electric Vehicle spring" is unlikely to turn into summer for quite a while yet since sales do not look like taking off: the existing Nissan Leaf, for example, is reported to have sold only 20,000 of the company's target of 1.6 million by 2016.

One big reason for lack of interest is “range anxiety”; about two thirds of potential customers tell surveys that they will not buy electric cars because they do not go for long enough between charges – 100 miles is about the limit – causing long journeys to be interrupted by the need for long recharging sessions. But there are now signs of a possible breakthrough.

IBM started a drive in 2009 – along with four US national laboratories and commercial partners – to invent a battery that would last for 500 miles, matching the range of a full tank of petrol. This would involve replacing standard lithium-ion batteries with lithium-air ones, which have far greater energy densities and thus offer the prospect of storing far more electricity. So far chemical instabilities have limited their lifespan while recharging, but the IBM programme now says it has found a “very promising” way of getting round this. It has already demonstrated research prototypes and hopes to have them on the road by the end of the decade.

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