There are a lot of startup lithium battery companies, and it’s always nice to know that a well known (and respected) company is also involved. Several months ago just such a company, IBM, announced the results of preliminary research that may lead to a car battery with a 500 mile range. Everybody knows IBM makes computers and software, but batteries? IBM’s announcement was about lithium air batteries. The concept of lithium air batteries is not new, but IBM researchers have had promising results in the lab. Lithium ion batteries have an energy density in the order of 100 Whr/kg. A lithium air batter would have energy densities ranging from 1500 Whr/kg to 2000 Whr/kg. The lithium air battery would allow an electric car to have a range of 500 miles or more. In a lithium air battery, air reacts with lithium to produce electricity. When the battery is recharged, the air is released and the lithium returns to the anode. There are many problems to overcome, but IBM researchers are encourage by the results achieved so far. IBM’s goal is to have a working prototype in 3 years. If the prototype battery is successful in the that time frame, IBM envisions that we could see production batteries in the 2020 to 2030 time frame. This is not just any company, it’s IBM, so we should all feel optimistic about the future of electric cars as the replacement for gasoline engines. If (should I say when) research is successful, IBM will probably not manufacture the batteries, but license the technology to others.
The last time IBM was in the popular news was when Watson beat former champs on the quiz show Jeopardy. It’s good to know that despite the demise of Bell Labs, there are still a few American companies doing basic research.