IBM's High Risk, High Reward Pursuit of Lithium-Air Batteries

IBM researchers have demonstrated promising lithium-air batteries, but expect it will take up to a decade to achieve commercialization.

Published: 24-Feb-2013

Everyone who’s held a smartphone to the ear or watched a movie with a laptop balanced on their knees knows the devices get hot. Most are unaware the same battery technology is widely used in electric cars and has made few notable advances in a decade.

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries became costly for General Motors Co. after they caught fire in its plug-in Volt car during safety tests in 2011. They grounded Boeing Co.’s newest Dreamliner airplane in January.

International Business Machines Corp. plans to release a prototype next year of an alternative it calls “lithium air” that would mark a big step forward by packing in more storage capacity. While improving the technology depends on chemical processes that take longer to perfect than the systems that brought cheap electronics, finding a solution to the shortcomings of batteries has the potential to revolutionize everything from transportation to hand-held gadgets.


Salinas Grandes, in Northwestern Argentina covers 17,000 sq. km. Flickr photo by Guslight.

Mineral compounds containing lithium are abundant in a vast region in southern Bolivia, northwest Argentina and northern Chile

Hyundai i-ONIQ fuel cell concept vehicle

EV World contributor and lithium expert, Juan Carlos Zuleta wonders if fuel cells may supplant lithium batteries in powering electric cars.

A future 24kWh lithium-air battery in the Nissan LEAF would weigh less than 5 lbs. (2.2 kg).

Lithiated silicon-carbon anodes may be secret to powerful electric vehicle batteries with energy densities a 1,000 times that of today's lithium-ion cells.


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