Lithium Air is Coming…But When? And Will it Double EV Range?

4 years ago by Eric Loveday 19

Crude Lithium-Air Battery Diagram

Crude Lithium-Air Battery Diagram

A month or so ago, BMW made a statement on the future of battery technology.  Basically, BMW was trying to say that lithium-air, the next expected advance in automotive battery tech, is 3 or so years away and that, with its arrival, range will more than double.

Lithium Air Tops the Chart

Lithium Air Tops the Chart

The problem is that nobody seems to know when lithium air will actually arrive.

It won’t be in 3 years though and it won’t immediately double the range of electric vehicles.

The general agreeance is that commercially viable lithium air batteries are probably 7 to 10 years off still, though some argue that it could be available sooner.

In response to statements made by BMW, Peter Fuss, a partner at the Ernst & Young Global Automotive Center in Frankfurt, stated:

“I generally agree with BMW’s statement. Whether the lithium air improvement of performance is 2, 5 or 10 times is also very difficult to predict. However, based on my discussions I always hear the quote ‘the improvement of performance through lithium air technology will be significant’ — this will be more than just double the performance.”

Meanwhile, Al Bedwell, analyst with LMC Automotive in Oxford, England, says this:

“I’d say that there is a long way to go before lithium-air batteries are fully commercialized. ZN-Air, Li-sulphur and Li-Air are all promising technologies that can make a radical difference to BEV  range but not for a while. The consensus as I understand it is that we are looking at 2020 to 2025 before these new chemistries appear at an affordable cost. In the meantime we are pretty much stuck with L-ion at best, along with the limitations that it imposes.”

What’s obvious to us is that there’s optimists and pessimists when it comes to the future of automotive battery technology.

While we won’t put a range figure on lithium air or a timeline for its arrival, others will.  There’s no need to though, as we’re sure the next battery advancement will come eventually.

What’s more important right now is that today’s battery tech shows sign of continuously improving and these improvement all but guarantee that EVs will get better year after year.

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19 responses to "Lithium Air is Coming…But When? And Will it Double EV Range?"

  1. taser54 says:

    Since we are talking batteries Eric, check out this article on Lithium Sulfur and the egg yolk connection. http://www.nanowerk.com/news2/newsid=32901.php

  2. Priusmaniac says:

    Sure Lithium air is a fantastic candidate, although nano encapsulated Lithium Fluorine could actually be another one but apart from chemical energy storage, things are bubbling in other areas. The capacitors, and the SMES of course, but also the photonic energy storage and this one just got a serious boost by the recent discovery of 100 % mirrors. In other words it become feasible to enclose light in a box in a way it doesn’t come out anymore while still actively bouncing in there. From then on, you can increase the number of trapped photons with no yet know practical limitation. If you trap enough light you could make a huge energy storage. A car could be power by a photonic battery the size of a sugar cube.

    1. Bob A says:

      Does that mean photon torpedoes are soon to be reality???

      1. Priusmaniac says:

        From the moment you achieve a photon battery what you do with it is open to your imagination. Transform the photons in electricity. Transform the photons in trust. Transfort the photons in heat. That heat can eventually be delivered at once by a sudden breach of the photonic battery that would result in a bomb.
        Combine trust and a breach on impact and you would indeed get a kind of photonic torpedo for real. Altough I suspect you make an allusion to sf stuff, there is an actual physical possibility to it.

    2. BartGrantham says:

      I am pretty skeptical that such a thing (a perfect mirror) exists outside of fringe websites, not to mention the assertion that you could trap an unlimited number of photos inside it. Claims of perfect, 100% efficiency have always turned out to be bunk. This sounds like more of the same crackpot nonsense.

    3. gigglehertz says:

      I actually came up with that idea about 20 years ago as a thought experiment after reading how a laser works. “What if the photons never got out? Woah!” I figured it would never work though.

    4. Mint says:

      A perfect mirror is useless unless it’s switchable. If you make a cavity with perfect mirrors (and a vacuum core, since any matter in there will have some absorbtion), how do you add light in there? How do you get it out?

      1. Priusmaniac says:

        That is 100 % correct, but I would say the big first step of perfect mirrors now leads the way to the other requirements you mention. Perfect vacuum and a way to let light in and out.

  3. Jouni Valkonen says:

    I personally do not believe lithium air batteries on short term (<20 years).

    Tesla has shown, that conventional batteries gives ideal weight distribution to the EV and also makes the body rigid and stiff. This gives much better safety level, because most of the increased vehicle weight is translated into better level of safety.

    Therefore the weight of battery packs is not the issue. The only issue is the cost.

    However, lithium-air cells could perform well as range extender. In this purpose it does not matter if they have low cycle life, because long range is not needed too often. You could have 300 km range in normal battery pack + 500 km more in lithium-air range extender. This should banish the range anxiety.

    1. Brian says:

      The range extender is certainly interesting, especially given Tesla’s hybrid battery patent. The key here is that extender battery must be cheap because it is essentially disposable.

  4. Schmeltz says:

    I can just never understand why in the world it would take 10 years from today to bring a commercially viable Lithium Air battery to market? What are they doing that would take 10 years to figure out? So they’re calendars are absolutley filled from Otober 2013 to October 2023 then? I’m sure these scientists are saying, “Sorry honey, no holidays for me until at least 2024…I’m working on Lithium Air batteries and we promised them in 10 years!”

    I’ve read that there are techincal hurdles with these kinds of batteries and that they require a lot of testing. But c’mon already.

    1. My take on just about every new technology that is “coming” is that they can kind of make it work in the lab, but they can’t reproduce it well, they don’t understand it well, and they definitely can’t mass produce it. So, the scientists give some generic non-binding guess that IF they can understand it better and IF they can reproduce it well then it MIGHT be mass produced in 2-5 years.

      If you look at the development of standard lithium batteries that began in the ’70s, it would be a long road to get a significant change (basically a new battery) to do lithium air.

      In other words, I’m not holding my breath and would rather see greater adoption of charging stations. That’s “range” without doing anything other than adding a few plugs.

    2. Gene says:

      Wikipedia’s page on lithium-air summarizes several of the challenges that researchers are working to overcome. It isn’t just testing: there are real limitations that detract from real-world usefulness for now, and people don’t figure out solutions in just a few days or months. Research may involve trying to determine what is happening at the atomic (molecular) level, including studying a host of other materials to develop understanding of the patterns which may reveal the natural processes. That knowledge must then be used to attempt to engineer solutions (if any exist) that get around the limitation. Such alternative solutions may then introduce new problems or be prohibitive for some other reasons. Sometimes no breakthroughs occur until some disconnected piece of research gives hints, or some new tools are developed that can help understand the phenomena.

      I don’t see why ten years to market is an unreasonable expectation. That’s why I decided not to bet on big improvements to batteries arriving in 2-3 years: I’m planning to keep my current EV for longer than that (i.e. purchase instead of lease). I seem to be of a minority opinion though.

      [disclaimer: while a researcher myself, I’m not doing similar research; my work may result in better batteries in a ~century by utilizing properties of nuclei, not molecules]

  5. Aaron says:

    Has anyone heard about IBM’s efforts on the Lithium-Air front? Are they making progress?

    http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/smart_grid/article/battery500.html

  6. jzj says:

    I thought we’d all read that the next great leap forward would be some form of lithium silicon battery, likely a cathode composed of nanosilicon kernals encased in some sort of ceramic or graphene sheathing to keep it from crumbling (which is why silicon, which would otherwise work well, can presently manage only a limited number of cycles before failing).

    As to lithium-air, I had thought that this would be the intermediate-future battery after silicon before we get to the ultimate battery/supercapacitor, graphene.

    But, admittedly like so many I’m just an avid follower of this stuff and I’m not actually doing any work in the field, and so I know it could turn out that today’s fascinating lab blurb may well be tomorrow’s practical manufacturing impossibility.

  7. Amprius started shipping silicon-based batteries to electronics OEMs in May.

    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2013/05/amprius-20130521.html

  8. Randy Bryan says:

    Although I think greater battery energy density will come, starting in the next couple years [not yet Li-Air], in the mean time, wouldn’t it be nice to have faster charge times?