Range anxiety – how long before we look back and laugh about our earlier fears? Like any new technology, the battery industry for electric cars is fast improving with a variety of innovators promising more range, higher energy density and smaller, lighter batteries.
IBM has taken up the challenge to design a 500-mile range battery that is 1/10th the size and weight of current batteries, but with a twist. Instead of focusing on lithium-ion batteries, the company is taking an “air-breathing” battery concept from the 1970’s, and trying to make it a reality. Here’s how it works: when the electric car starts, this battery will take in oxygen from the air, which will then mix with lithium-ions to create a chemical reaction producing electricity and propel the vehicle. Once the battery is recharging, it releases the oxygen – as though it were exhaling – and the cycle begins again. IBM and its partners hope to have a working model by the end of 2013.
A team at Stanford University has taken a different approach, looking to improve upon the current lithium-ion battery by increasing the capacity and number of times the battery can be charged in its lifetime. They use silicon as a way to bind lithium-ions, as opposed to the current method using graphite. The team has already created a battery that continues to work at 85% capacity after 6,000 charges/discharges, which, when compared to current lithium batteries usually only last up to 1,000. The team believes that the use of silicon opens up the possibility of a lithium battery holding 10 times the current power density.
These are just two of many exciting advancements in battery technology, as the industry continues to announce contributions to this space. Duke Energy is bringing this new technology to the next level by testing many types of battery chemistries and evaluating the benefits of energy storage to the grid. These projects range from using energy storage at a large utility scale wind farm all the way down to the transformer level in a customer’s backyard. These tests will allow Duke Energy to determine not only the best location for energy storage on the grid, but also its application such as energy shifting, renewable smoothing, and frequency regulation.