New battery going to make electric cars a no-brainer?

While many people have found that electric cars are already more than capable of taking care of not only their daily needs, but also doing incredible road trips (I recently drove mine more than 1000 miles to watch the bears of north west Spain) it is still the regularly refrain that they cannot go far enough.

Lets forget for the moment the fact that unlike a combustion engine car you don’t have to stand and wait for the car to charge up – you plugin and then go have lunch/do what ever you want. For many people, they wish to replace their combustion engine with a car that is very similar (again even though, for almost every recharge they will plug it in at home in the evening, and in the morning be ready to go) and as such an extended range is something that will help with adoption. Now my experience with our car, is that we need to plan our stops a little better, but usually the car has the range to carry on, long before the family is ready to get back in. If you are doing a road trip on your own, this may not always be the case – and as such perhaps cars could do with more range.

Enter a new battery chemistry of Lithium-sulphur, which could triple battery capacity, and therefore the range of a car. Given that the longest range recent cars have ranges over 400 miles, this would give you a car with a range of 1200 or about 17 hours of non-stop driving at UK maximum allowed speeds.

So far, these batteries have not made it to market, as during charge they grow by 78% which means that they usually start to break apart after just a few charging cycles.

Researchers at Drexel were looking for a way to change the cathode to stop this happening, but instead stumbled over a phase of sulphur that stops the reaction taking place. It stops teh formation of a chemical compound and instead crystallises the sulphur (this form of crystalline had only previously been created at over 95 degrees.

Over the course of a year, the battery went through 4000 charge discharge cycles – roughly the same as a decade of electric car use, and the battery had not only remained stable but hadn’t degraded. Research is now being done to understand how this happens. If they can understand it, and know it will work every time, then they can commercialize.

Switchingsome of the material from Lithium to Sulpher has many advantages, not least sulphur is the fifth most common element on earth, while Lithium is just the 33rd, so there is a great deal more Sulphur. This will reduce prices, and allow enormous scaling which might finally deliver batteries in the quantities to fully wean the human race off fossil fuels.

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