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Power IBM Transportation Hardware Science

IBM Creates 'Breathing' High-Density Lithium-Air Battery 582

Posted by Soulskill
from the inspirational-energy-tech dept.
MrSeb writes "As part of IBM's Battery 500 project — an initiative started in 2009 to produce a battery capable of powering a car for 500 miles — Big Blue has successfully demonstrated a light-weight, ultra-high-density, lithium-air battery. In it, oxygen is reacted with lithium to create lithium peroxide and electrical energy. When the battery is recharged, the process is reversed and oxygen is released — in the words of IBM, this is an 'air-breathing' battery. While conventional batteries are completely self-contained, the oxygen used in a lithium-air battery comes from the atmosphere, so the battery itself can be much lighter. The main thing, though, is that lithium-air energy density is a lot higher than conventional lithium-ion batteries: the max energy density of lithium-air batteries is theorized to be around 12 kWh/kg, some 15 times greater than li-ion — and more importantly, comparable to gasoline."
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IBM Creates 'Breathing' High-Density Lithium-Air Battery

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  • Your move, range anxiety crowd.

    • by jellomizer (103300) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:01AM (#39745879)

      Recharge in less then 5 minutes?

      • by Rhywden (1940872) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:04AM (#39745915)
        Solved by standardized connectors and form factors.
        Instead of charging the battery in the car, exchange the empty battery for a loaded one.
        • This idea is going to seem ridiculously silly in the future when batteries can charge faster than a tank can fill (Even Gen. X'ers will live to see it, I'm sure). I will seem incredible forward-thinking B-)

          • by Rhywden (1940872) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:18AM (#39746099)
            You'll most likely still need to drive to a "fuel station", regardless. Filling such a high capacity battery inside of five minutes requires an incredibly high current.
            While certainly not impossible, the strain on energy distribution and the amount of wiring (the wire has to be thick to withstand the current!) will make it cheaper to have a few dedicated charging station rather than every house on its own.
            • See, I seldom drive a car when I'm asleep.

              Rather than fill a battery up in five minutes, I'd prefer to just plug it in when I drive it back into my garage at the end of the day. That covers almost every situation (except for those crazy road trips - but even then, it's unlikely we're driving non-stop for days on end.)

              • by Oswald (235719)

                See, I seldom drive a car when I'm asleep.

                Lunesta script run out?

              • by Lumpy (12016) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:55AM (#39746619) Homepage

                I am more lazy. I dont want to plug it in. Why cant they make induction charging mats? Drive over it, the charge light comes on.

                • Because people have played mario cart, and I don't want to be hit by a red shell because I got to the charging mat first.

              • by DigiShaman (671371) on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:25PM (#39752011) Homepage

                Must be nice to own a home. Many urbanites either live in an apartment or condo. Often with designated shared parking. The very core group of people that could benefit from EVs are at a disadvantage when it comes to recharging them. I suppose you could have a recharging pole next to each parking space like an old school drive in movie theater from the 1950s with wired speaker mounts. But then you looking at maintenance, vandalism, and the dense electrical infrastructure capable of handling the nightly recharging load.

                As others have suggested, the best way to address this with EVs is to use swappable cells where the owner pays for electricity and not the container (battery pack). The cells of course being a public vessel by which to obtain a recharge.

            • by Khyber (864651)

              "Filling such a high capacity battery inside of five minutes requires an incredibly high current."

              Nope, you can get 480/277/240 lines installed at low current and charge just fine, assuming your battery bank is within that voltage range (assuming there is nothing else than a rectifier to go from AC to DC.).

              What's going to be the killer is how FAST you can safely charge the battery.

            • by rtb61 (674572)

              Fuel stations will not be able to compete with, smart shops, malls, restaurants, parking stations charge you car while parked and add it to the bill, every minute counts and it's not a large price, spend enough and have the charge thrown in for free (induction charging). Even kerb side parking can incorporate induction charging. You can of course charge up when you visit family/friends if your running low (wouldn't abuse that too often).

              The whole idea of filling up is just so last millennium and disposab

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Teancum (67324)

            This idea is going to seem ridiculously silly in the future when batteries can charge faster than a tank can fill (Even Gen. X'ers will live to see it, I'm sure). I will seem incredible forward-thinking B-)

            For a website filled with electrical and computer engineers, the entire notion that you can recharge an electric battery quick with enough energy to be able to send an automobile over 500 miles in less than 15 minutes should seem totally ludicrous.

            What are you expecting to have happen, somebody figure out how to discover news laws of physics akin to discovering how to travel faster than light?

            The sheer amount of energy to perform this kind of action is going to require connectors to the recharging equipment

            • by ballpoint (192660)

              500 miles * 200Wh/mile = 100kWh. 400kW of power to transfer this energy in 15 minutes.

              1kA @ 400V (or 100A @ 4kV) will do. The power can come from another, bigger house battery that is (relatively) trickle charged from the grid or local sources.

              So no problem really.

            • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 20, 2012 @12:57PM (#39747423)

              This idea is going to seem ridiculously silly in the future when batteries can charge faster than a tank can fill (Even Gen. X'ers will live to see it, I'm sure). I will seem incredible forward-thinking B-)

              For a website filled with electrical and computer engineers, the entire notion that you can recharge an electric battery quick with enough energy to be able to send an automobile over 500 miles in less than 15 minutes should seem totally ludicrous.

              No, it should seem feasible, but difficult. I don't expect computer engineers to necessarily have a clue, but as an electrical engineer, I've previously run the numbers, and will proceed to redo them quickly for your benefit:
              Going off my general knowledge of gasoline-powered automobiles, a "typical" car might get 35 mpg cruising at 55 mph using only 50 hp (not engine rating, actual horsepower used at cruise), and has a fuel capacity of 20 gallons.
              Using these figures in the obvious way, I come up with about 1.7 GJ of mechanical energy at the crankshaft. Permitting 90% electrical->mechanical efficiency, that'd be 2GJ of battery required for equivalent performance. (Quibble with my typical values if you like, but I think I'm correct to order of magnitude.)

              The sheer amount of energy to perform this kind of action is going to require connectors to the recharging equipment to be in the kiloVolt range, or perhaps MegaVolt and have amperage with that voltage that can only be supplied by a direct power line to a nuclear power plant.

              Charging a 2 GJ battery in 15 minutes requires on the order of 2 MW, plus charging inefficiencies. While this is certainly infeasible for a standard home installation, it hardly requires a nuclear power station; Wikipedia says the world's largest coal-fired power plant is 4GW. 2MW is feasible for recharging at highway stations, provided that electric cars are mostly recharged overnight at home (at much lower rates, manageable by household wiring), reducing demand from every vehicle, all the time (as with filling stations) to only those vehicles needing a top-up during the day (mostly road trips). Then you can get away with a single 2MW service at each station, ~20 MW to match the 8-12 gas pumps needed to service the gasoline fleet during rush hour.

              (This is not to say our electrical infrastructure won't need significant upgrades -- distributing it to homes and over a longer time doesn't change the total energy required; but that's a separate issue.)

              Worst case, suppose electric infrastructure can't be extended to supply some filling stations for whatever reason -- maybe they're off in the boonies somewhere. What would it take for my neighborhood gas station to set up the ability to recharge electric cars from its liquid fuel supply? Well, as it happens, producing 2.6MW from diesel fuel is a solved problem [wikipedia.org] with significantly improved fuel efficiency from vehicle engines, which combined with the elimination of road tax on fuel consumed by the generator, makes it economically feasible. (Yes, this takes away much of the supposed "green" benefit of electric cars, but if the car runs on overnight charging from nuclear power 90% of the time, with the occasional diesel-fueled quick charge for road trips, I'd call that a win; it's certainly better than running a gasoline car all the time because there was no quick-charging option.)

          • There is one issue with these 500mi batteries I can think of, how do you charge them quickly? if you assume it takes about 30KW do push a prius sized vehicle at 50mi/hr then a 500 mile battery would mean about 300Kw/hr storage. I'm not sure if that is what is here or not, but let's assume yes. To charge a 300kW/hr battery in ten mites would require a 1.8MegaWatts connection for every car at the "pump". Sounds kinda dicey. do you really trust that every car pulling up is maintained so well that a bad co

            • by goombah99 (560566)

              This inspired me to look again at these. my 30kw was a number I came up with a long time ago from coefficients of drag on a honda car.

              Now that we have all electric cars you can actually measure this. The chevy volt and nissan leaf are the best ones made and they manage just over 37Kwh/100 miles at "highway" speed.

              assuming highway speed means 55mph then 100 miles is 1.8 hours. So that means it takes 20kw to propel these at 55 mph.

              now the drag power it takes to propel any object through air scales as the

        • by mark-t (151149)
          A nice idea, but what if you didn't want to do a complete charge up for whatever reason? It would be a significant headache for swapping stations to have to carry batteries of many different levels of charge.
          • Put 12 cells in each car. Replace 1-12 as needed.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by noh8rz3 (2593935)
            wtf? why wouldn't you want a complete charge? It's like going to exchange your propane tank but requesting a half-full tank. perhaps you're worrieda bout the weight of all those electrons?
            • by ArsonSmith (13997)

              Back when I was poor I had to limit my travel to currently available cash. I wasn't always able to afford a full gas tank and would only fill up $3-5 worth until the next payday. Sometimes overly privileged people that don't have to live on a budget don't know these things.

              • by Belial6 (794905)
                I have found that the not "overly privileged" don't know how to live on a budget. They just tell themselves that they do. I have been poor. Your comment is right in there with the people who say that they can't pay off their credit cards because they are poor, so they keep the cards maxed out, pay off a little each month, and then recharge the amount they paid off.

                If you put $5 of gas into your empty tank, you will be able to drive $5 worth of distance. If you put $5 of gas into your mostly full tank
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Not tenable. Do you really want to trade the brand new battery in your brand new car for a used one with an unknown number of duty cycles? If so, I'd be happy to trade the fully charged battery in my MacBook for your brand new but empty one. Sure mine says "replace battery now" in the health indicator but it is fully charged and compatible with other laptops with the same battery form factor.

          • by Rhywden (1940872) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:27AM (#39746239)

            Ah, but that's the beauty of it: You don't need to know the number of duty cycles.
            You exchange your empty battery for a charged battery with the assurance of the fuel station that this battery carries the charge you just paid for.
            And if that one's empty, you'll replace it again.
            Furthermore, you can insert some electronics to store and display statistics - no need to sell a dumb battery.

            Again, a solvable problem.

          • by rubycodez (864176)
            so every new electric car gets a not-a-new battery from the common pool at a discount. perception problem solved.
          • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:39AM (#39746385)

            Liability of the swap station. Large propane cylinders are leased and are not cheap to buy. Return one undamaged and get a certified good one. If it dies outside of an accident the swapping company replaces it.

            Solvable.

          • You will only care about that issue if you *own* the battery that comes with the car.

            If battery swap stations were the norm, you undoubtedly would never own any battery. Instead, batteries would be like discs from Netflix.

            In an ideal world, they would only be able to bill you for the actual amount of juice that you ended up pulling out of the battery before you have to swap it again (as determined by your car's and/or the battery's control logic).

      • Drat you've got me. God forbid you have to take a half-hour break to get an 80% recharge after driving for over 8 hours at highway speed. You might even have to choke down a snack to bury your sorrows.

        • by cpu6502 (1960974)

          >>>God forbid you have to take a half-hour break to get an 80% recharge

          Batteries don't charge from 10% to 80% in just 30 minutes. And for good reason: They got very hot and the internal components become damaged, dramatically shortening the battery's life. (And then you have a $5000 replacement... equivalent cost to buying a whole new engine.)

          • by skids (119237)

            Batteries don't charge from 10% to 80% in just 30 minutes.

            "Batteries" shouldn't be generalized with broad-brush statements. There are many chemistries some of which have absolutely no problem with a 4C charge rate.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojo@woCURIErld3.net minus physicist> on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:09AM (#39745989) Homepage

        Not an absolute requirement by any means. Current cars can do an 80% recharge in half an hour, more than adequate for most people. Remember that in the future the idea will be to charge your car in the car park or at home, not just on the road. If you manage to hit the 500 mile range then half an hour to recharge your own body is probably a good idea.

        • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:36AM (#39746349)

          Remember that in the future the idea will be to charge your car in the car park or at home, not just on the road.

          Actually, in the future, it is likely that you will be able to recharge while you are driving. Here is how it will works: automatic lane control and braking systems will enable cars to travel in "platoons", with just a few inches between cars. This will greatly extend the range of your car by reducing air resistance, but the cars can also be magnetically coupled, so they can push and pull each other. So if you are on a long trip, and your battery is low, the computer in your car can automatically negotiate with other cars in the platoon and purchase power. You can use this to coast without draining your battery, or even run your engine in reverse and recharge your batteries as you drive.

          • by AmiMoJo (196126)

            Or just embed some inductive charging on sections of main roads.

      • I've been with the "range anxiety" crowd for a while now... the current capacity of electric vehicles has meant you pretty much MUST own a second car, or you'll be renting a "real" car pretty often.

        If my car can go 500 miles on a charge? The last time I was riding in a car that went that long without an overnight stop (which could be used for charging) was college. Now that I have actual money? If I'm going 500 miles, I fly. (And even if I was driving, I'd get a hotel room for overnight... straight-thro

      • by benjfowler (239527) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:34AM (#39746315)

        Flywheel storage. Under existing service station forecourts, are massive fuel tanks. Replace them with flywheel energy storage systems (which can be trickle-charged from the grid and discharged very fast if need be), and we may yet be in business.

        Flywheel storage are used to augment the National Grid in powering the Joint European Torus, and can deliver many tens of megawatts of power on demand.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_European_Torus [wikipedia.org]

    • by loufoque (1400831) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:03AM (#39745901)

      How expensive is it?
      How long does it take to charge?
      How long can it hold its charge before it leaks?
      How many recharge cycles can it do?

      • Enough that it will be a better deal than gas in the future, for sure

        Current cars are doing an 80% quick charge in half an hour, use your imagination

        If it's anything like today's lithium batteries, many months

        See first answer

    • by mark-t (151149)
      Great... now if they can build an infrastructure of recharging stations or at least be able to promise to build one, all over the country where you can juice up your car to 90% full or better inside of 5 minutes, we'll have a winner.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by noh8rz3 (2593935)
      tfs says that the energy density is like gasoline and 10x lithium ion. but it's talking gravimetric density, i.e. kwh per kg. The only thing that matters is volumetric density, i.e. kwh / liter. This is because cars are space constrained, not weight constrained. So nothing to get excited about for vehicle range, because we have not data on it. For all we know, it could be worse. likely it's about the same as li-ion, because most of the battery volume is taken up by packaging and cooling, not the active mate
      • by mlts (1038732) *

        Nail, hit hit. Weight is an important factor, but what is important is how much space the battery takes up with all its cooling and safety systems. If it still is competitive (or heck, within an order of magnitude) with gasoline, we have something revolutionary.

        Otherwise, it will go on the shelf with supercaps and many other battery technologies that had promise, but couldn't deliver.

        • by noh8rz3 (2593935) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:26AM (#39746223)
          Also, remember that electric motors are 3x more efficient that gas engines (80% thermal efficiency vs. 25%), so batteries don't need to get parity with gasoline in order to be comparable.
          • by mlts (1038732) *

            Virtually anything electric is, be it electric heaters, refrigerators, et. al.

            However, the reason why we still use gas/diesel engines is that gasoline takes up a relatively small amount of volume for the energy it gives off, even at 25% efficiency or less. Getting batteries that are are in the ball park with energy storage with volume would completely change this. Electric motors do not need an intake/exhaust system, and the cooling system can be downsized due to less waste heat.

            Plus, it will be nice to h

      • by necro81 (917438)
        Cars are both space and weight constrained. If the car weighs a lot more (and hybrids and electrics certainly do) it takes more power to accelerate it. It also takes more power to keep it moving on the highway due to increased rolling resistance. More power required implies more battery (or sacrificing power density for energy density), larger power electronics, heavier motor, etc. Cutting the weight of the battery pack by a factor of 2, let alone 10, would be tremendous.

        But, to your point, I agree t
    • 500 miles on one charge would solve the vast majority of issues. It's slightly beyond the maximum distance I travel at once (I visit family out of state regularly, about a 420 mile drive, which is generally about as far as a single driver is likely to go in a single "sitting" without a substantial break).

      If they can A) get cost reasonable and B) get a decent amount of infrastructure for 3-4 hour charging of the pack, it's a pretty valid contender for viable replacement of the ICE for the average driver.
    • Your move, range anxiety crowd.

      Do you have a "jerry can" equivalent? Because sure as Monday, somebody is going to run out of juice in the middle of nowhere.

      • With this battery, sure why not. The only thing preventing it now is energy density, you couldn't carry anything of meaningful capacity. At this energy density you could carry extra packs that wire up to terminals in the trunk.

    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      >>>Your move, range anxiety crowd.

      Still can't take me from Maryland to California in 3 days, because of the time-to-recharge issue. Your EV would need to include a gasoline generator to recharge the battery as you're driving, and then it's a hybrid.

      Now:

      What about the danger of explosion? As it recharges it release oxygen. You wouldn't want to leave your Lithium-oxygen EV in your garage but outside so the O2 can safely escape rather than build up.

      • What about the danger of explosion? As it recharges it release oxygen. You wouldn't want to leave your Lithium-oxygen EV in your garage but outside so the O2 can safely escape rather than build up.

        Garages might need an extractor fan but I guess it depends on how quickly the oxygen is released. If it's not too high it should be able to safely dissipate.

      • by Teancum (67324)

        What about the danger of explosion? As it recharges it release oxygen. You wouldn't want to leave your Lithium-oxygen EV in your garage but outside so the O2 can safely escape rather than build up.

        The danger of high concentrations of Oxygen is not a concern about explosions, but rather fire. Oxygen in high enough concentrations can burn almost anything, which is where concerns about compressed Oxygen is treated as a hazardous material subject to special transport considerations.

        Still, the partial pressure of Oxygen would need to be substantially higher than the already existing percentage of Oxygen in the air we are currently breathing, and for home recharging operations done in a typical garage...

    • by guttentag (313541) on Friday April 20, 2012 @12:16PM (#39746905) Journal

      Your move, range anxiety crowd.

      OK, I'll bite. This is an "air breathing" battery that uses oxygen from the atmosphere to create lithium peroxide and electrical energy. What if I drive to some place where there is no air, like Los Angeles, and get stuck there?

    • by s122604 (1018036)
      I drive 500 miles each way to work, so this will never work for me..
  • Air isn't new (Score:5, Informative)

    by SJHillman (1966756) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:03AM (#39745903)

    The summary makes it sound like they've never used air in batteries before. Most small batteries, including hearing aid batteries, are zinc-air. This is why they come with a small sticker on one side - you remove the sticker and give the battery a minute or so to take in air. That said, I don't believe the zinc-air batteries "breathe" like how the article describes, and they're certainly not rechargeable so kudos to IBM.

  • by sirwired (27582)

    Assuming this can be productized in a relatively reasonable timeframe, this is a HUGE advance. And, if IBM is reporting it, it is more likely to actually be true. (As opposed to some random no-name startup with results that cannot be duplicated and just happens to be up for a round of funding soon...)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:05AM (#39745943)

    the oxygen used in a lithium-air battery comes from the atmosphere, so the battery itself can be much lighter.

    When the battery is recharged, the process is reversed and oxygen is released

    The article was a bit brief, but from this read it seems that as the battery is discharged, it gains mass, but I'm just not seeing how much mass it would gain.

    Also, if that thing releases pure oxygen when you charge it, I'm not charging that thing in my garage.

    • Odds are it doesn't release enough oxygen to make a huge difference with most common flammables. Even if it does, it can be solved with a cheap and easy weekend project to add an exhaust vent to your garage... something you may want to invest in anyway. Likewise, the mass gained by discharging it is probably a small fraction of the overall battery weight and won't make any noticeable difference - go pick up an air compressor that's empty. Now fill it up to max rated and pick it up. There's a weight gain, bu

  • How long does it take to recharge? Current li-ion cars can get to 80% charge in half an hour.

  • I have been touting electric cars for years now as the next big thing....this makes me look like less of an eco-asshole :-P
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:11AM (#39746021)

    The thermal energy in gasoline has to be converted to a more useful form of energy (i.e. turning the wheels), the efficiency of this is going to be ~20% for a automobile. The battery is supplying much more useful energy, the efficiency of converting electricity to useful energy is going to be something like 90% (or more). So a battery with the same energy density of gasoline actually has at least 4 times the useful energy of the same size (weight actually) gas tank.

  • Comparable? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SlashAdotter (1465581)
    According to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density#Common_energy_densities [wikipedia.org] The energy density for gasoline 47.2 MJ/kg and Lithium air battery 9 MJ/kg. If five times less is "comparable" I wouldn't mind the li-air car cost of $4000 which is comparable to a regular gas car.
  • by jklovanc (1603149) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:34AM (#39746319)

    According to the video we won't see these batteries in cars until "2020 or 2030". That seems like a long way off considering the summary says "demonstrated a light-weight, ultra-high-density, lithium-air battery" As far as I can glean from the vague articles is that all IBM has done is demonstrate the fundamental chemistry on a supercomputer. As far as I can tell they have not actually built a working battery of significant size and definitely not one of a size that would power a vehicle. There have been may technologies that work well in pristine laboratory environments but fail when they attempt to scale and/or have to deal with the dirty environment. Sure the battery may even work on a small scale when exposed to pure oxygen but how does it deal with the other elements in the atmosphere? Take a look at this [wikipedia.org]. I do not see where IBM shows how that deal with any of these issues.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      It's not premature. It's an article about some information at IBM. People talking about this like it's rolling out are the ones that are wrong.

      You only want to here about things when they are available? stop reading science and wait for the commercial to come one while you are watching American Idle.

    • by g8oz (144003)

      If you want product announcements maybe you should frequent Engadget not Slashdot.

      Congratulations to IBM on moving forward with some world changing research.

  • by jklovanc (1603149) on Friday April 20, 2012 @12:01PM (#39746695)

    From the linked video it states that a car sized batter will probably not be available until 2020 or 2030. I think the subtext to that is really "We don' think this technology is actually viable and hope that some new technology will be found within the next 8 to 18 years that will make our research moot but give us money now anyway".

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