The future of electric car batteries

Ingram offers a wrap-up of the latest research on electric car batteries and energy storage – an important area for the future of cleantech.

Junji Kurokawa/AP/File
Nissan Motor Co. employee Kazuhiro Fujibayashi demonstrates the electric recharge plug-in process of the company's latest LEAF car for photographers in Tokyo, in this November 2012 file photo. One path to improving electric car batteries is to find incremental improvements in today's technology, Ingram writes.

There are three main paths to improving batteries for future electric vehicles.

One is the development of entirely new technologyreplacing today's batteries entirely with something lighter, more powerful and more energy dense. The next is the greening of batteries--reducing their environmental impact.

The other is simply to find incremental improvements in today's technology--like eliminating some of its current weaknesses.

According to the Ohio State University (viaCleanTechnica), One such weakness has been found in the chemistry of current lithium-ion batteries, and scientists are now looking into fixing that issue. 

Scientists at the University have discovered that as the batteries are used, they slowly lose lithium, as it accumulates outside the battery electrodes.

It turns out the "missing" lithium is accumulating inside the 'current collector'--a copper sheet which improves the efficiency of electron transfer between the electrodes--in addition to the known collection on the outside of the anode.

"We didn’t set out to find lithium in the current collector," explained Bharat Bhusan, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, " you could say we accidentally discovered it, and how it got there is a bit of a mystery. As far as we know, nobody has ever expected active lithium to migrate inside the current collector."

Researchers at Ohio have been studying the degredation of batteries, but discovered the lithium collections almost by accident.

The knowledge could now lead to improvements in technology, ensuring more lithium ions move efficiently between anode and cathode when the battery is charging and discharging--rather than collecting elsewhere.

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