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IBM looking to put lithium-air batteries on the road


April 26, 2012

IBM's lithium-air battery uses oxygen from the air to react with lithium ions and generate electricity

IBM's lithium-air battery uses oxygen from the air to react with lithium ions and generate electricity

One of the main challenges faced by the Electric Vehicle (EV) industry is so-called “range anxiety.” Current lithium-ion batteries will provide a range of about 100 miles (161 km), limiting the commercial adoption of EVs in a market accustomed to the range and supporting infrastructure of gasoline-powered vehicles. If existing lithium-ion batteries were scaled up to match the range capacity of gas-powered vehicles, they would be unfeasibly large and heavy. Lithium-air batteries, which have the potential to provide energy densities that rivals traditional gasoline-powered engines, are seen as a possible solution. IBM has been researching such batteries and recently announced that it's bringing two companies with experience in electric vehicle materials onboard to aid in their development.

Unlike their lithium-ion counterparts, which use heavy metal-oxide cathodes and are self contained with an oxidizer stored internally, IBM’s lithium-air batteries provide a higher energy density through the use of lighter cathodes and using oxygen drawn from the air. The oxygen reacts with lithium ions during discharge to form lithium peroxide on a carbon matrix. When it recharges, the oxygen goes back to the atmosphere and the lithium goes back to the anode.

Like efforts at places such as MIT, IBM has been working on lithium-ion battery technology for some time, creating the Battery 500 Project in 2009 with the aim of developing a lithium-air battery technology that could power an average vehicle for about 500 miles (805 km) on a single charge. Having successfully demonstrated the fundamental chemistry of the charge-and-recharge process for lithium-air batteries, the company has recently enlisted the help of two Japanese companies to help put the technology on the road.

IBM has teamed up with Asahi Kasei and Central Glass, two companies with a history of electric vehicle materials development. Chemical manufacturer Asahi Kasei brings in its expertise in membrane technology, while electrolyte manufacturer Central Glass’s mission is to improve the performance of lithium-air batteries with a new class of electrolytes and additives.

However, you’ll have to be patient if you want to get your hands on a long-range EV powered with lithium-air batteries. IBM says we won’t see these being sold in a showroom this decade, but if the science and engineering hurdles are cleared, they could be on the streets between 2020 and 2030.

IBM takes us through the technology in the video below.

Source: IBM

About the Author
Antonio Pasolini Brazilian-Italian Antonio Pasolini graduated in journalism in Brazil before heading out to London for an MA in film and television studies. He fell in love with the city and spent 13 years there as a film reviewer before settling back in Brazil. Antonio's passion for green issues - and the outdoors - eventually got the best of him and since 2007 he's been writing about alternative energy, sustainability and new technology. All articles by Antonio Pasolini

I can't wait 10 years. Get more government money in this. In 10 years Diesel will cost £15 a litre and I'll have left my job to join the unemployed as it won't be worth working.


I'll bet they start loosing capacity faster as dirt clogs the air channels.


Recharging these batteries could bring dangers. Any significant increased concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere (e.g. in the vicinity of a charging battery) can create a local inflammability issue where spontaneous combustion can occur. Hence one of the major challenges in this research is likely to be finding a safe way to recharge the batteries.


Ah you gotta give it to them, that pure class. I can wait 10 years for this, easy. For a company with a shady history like IBM's they sure are coming through for us with this one!

Ross Jenkins

one has to love these time estimates. A lot can happen in 10 years. XKCD seems to nail it fine here: http://xkcd.com/678/


And why not super eficiented Volt/Ampera-like cars, lighter and more aerodynamics ? Except if on that time (2030 ?) the lithium oxygen batteries are very very much cheap light robust safe sustainable etc...


Why is it that Tesla has two vehicles (a 2 door roadster and a 4 door luxury vehicle) with an SUV on the way which ALL get over 200 miles on a charge and everyone else has a hard time breaking 100??? What is it that they're doing right and no one else is copying? 500 miles would be great, but 200 to 250 is already feasible and being actively used. Why isn't everyone doing it?

Dave Andrews

Cold Fusion will displace most if not all of these technologies in the next 18 to 36 months. http://seekingalpha.com/article/406981-cold-fusion-a-cure-for-high-gas-prices and http://ecat.com/news/ecat-news-update-in-april

Michael Slattery

I'll be an old man (or dead) by the time I see one in a car.


The one challenge not being met with any EV is a practical recharge time. I can "recharge" my gasoline vehicle in five minutes and get back on the road for a long trip. A 500 mile range means I have to stop overnight (assuming I'm allowed to recharge my EV where I stop), or for at least 2-4 hours, before resuming my trip. I'd bet you can forget the economy of electric once establishments install rapid recharge systems and hit you with the recharge fee. A good serial hybrid will be much more practical, allowing recharge as you travel, and high mileage. Maybe in the distant future we'll see electric highways, with power supplied by induction, so the vehicle batteries will only need to be used for short distances, but we're a long way from that.

Pat Kelley

A lot of effort goes into making cars and vehicles run on alternative fuels. Very little is done to address the real issue. 'DECAR' every society. No one needs a car, most of us buy it because we have become too lazy to walk, or in the case of developing countries, the public transport is downright lousy and unusable.

and DECAR ing a society begins in every citizen's mind !

Atul Malhotra

Ok, I failed English in High school But If I Remember correctly "Inflammable" means "won't burn" and Flammable means "will burn". I use a device to remember these; Flame-able, as in able to flame, and in-flame able is the opposite of being able to flame. Like Combustible and NON-Combustible the combust-ible or think able as in "Able to combust" Just being a prick, but get it right, or I might blow up.


As long as car makers keep the ICE platform, range will be much shorter than it need be. Whatever power source is used, the new paradigm should be: 1. About one third to half the usual curb weight. 2. Drag under .20. Proof? Tesla is getting good results by going in this direction. Aptera proved a practical two seat car with drag of .15 and under 1.5K lbs would be more efficient than any production model now built. And designers have shown us it can be exotic and still beautiful and or exciting.

These two simple overlooked principles are so powerful that it mystifies me as to why all the major car makers are ignoring them.


re; Atul Malhotra I would not mind people who want to live little ant lives in an ant hill society if they did not insist on trying to destroy my society to build theirs.

re; voluntaryist Half the curb weight? After you load the heavy low density energy storage system into it. And jut to add insult to injury it does not get lighter as you use the energy.

You would have to loose the four wheel format as well.

Without a quantum leap in electrical storage or broadcast power electric cars are a bad idea.


@Atul Malhotra

De-car? No-one needs a car? Thats just naive. I do need a car, because I need to travel 30km to work every day. I also need to get into remote areas with large amounts of equipment. Its also my livelyhood. I need a car, but I also want a car. They are the ultimate personal tool of freedom, they are fun, they are interesting and compelling. To Decar would also be so backwards to every economy on earth it's not funny. How would grocers restock if trucks and vans couldn't get to them? It would send us back to the dark ages. Theres a reason, why we have the enlightened, technological society we have -because we can transport raw resources, goods and services from anywhere on Earth right to your door. And automobiles of all kinds help enable this.


@Pat Kelley, You're exactly right. Although I would love lighter batteries for performance and handling reasons, any rechargeable battery manufacturers primary goal should be speeding up the charging process. This is the ONLY way to truly level the playing field with ICEVs. Toshiba and Altair Nano seem to be on the right track with their Lithium Titanate technology. I'd be interested to see if that technology could be leveraged with Lithium Air batteries.

Bottom line, I would rather go 100 miles and recharge in 5 minutes, than 500 miles and recharge in 5 hours.

Knowledge Thirsty

re; i35traveler

Google inflammable definition

in·flam·ma·ble/inˈflaməbəl/ Adjective:

Easily set on fire. Likely to provoke strong feelings: "an inflammable issue".

Synonyms: flammable - combustible - excitable

They use to write Inflammable on gasoline trucks but stopped because so many people did not know inflammable means hyper-flammable.


Thorium powered cars make more sense and would NEVER need fuel. They could be up and runing experimentally in just a few years. Yes it's radioactive but is easily shielded with just aluminum foil. You could store the stuff in your basement without any problems. http://www.geekosystem.com/thorium-powered-car/


This is a really cool idea, I want a car with a lithium air battery, it'll be lighter and if it holds a good charge, who knows how fast the car supplied with it could go. great idea!


Trolla, you don't need a car you have placed yourself in a situation that the only solution you see is a car. Is that 30 km one way or round trip? I used to have a commute that was 25 km each way that I made by bicycle. At first it was hella hard, but after 6 months my body adapted, my health started to get better, and I had a number of other beneficial "side effects" (the ladies loved my body). As for grocery stores and other establishments getting supplies, trains to local depots offload to compact electric or human powered cargo vehicles for delivery to the door (I participated in a demonstration program that had cargo trikes moving 500Kg by human power alone on mostly level ground, with electric assist we could move 700Kg on mostly hilly terrain, in vehicles that had less impact on the roads than a Smart car).

It can be done, and will increase total employment (and consumer costs, a little).

John Clary
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