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Published on November 9th, 2009 | by Susan Kraemer

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Metal-Air Battery With 11 Times More Energy at Half the Cost?

US Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu

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Arizona State University professor Cody Friesen thinks he can make a metal-air battery with up to 11 times the energy density of lithium batteries at potentially half the cost. Now the US Department of Energy’s advanced research incubator ARPA-E has just given his spin-off company, Fluidic Energy, a $5.13 million research grant to try and do just that.

ARPA-E funding is for breakthrough inventions that have the potential to radically change the way we get energy. Fluidic Energy holds this promise because a metal-air battery that uses an ionic liquid as its electrolyte (instead of water) would dramatically outperform the best lithium-ion batteries currently on the market.

An electric car with a relatively small battery could potentially travel well over 500 miles on a charge if his ionic liquid research pans out. This advance would leapfrog the electric car industry to well beyond the shorter-than-a-gas-tank range that has restricted the market appeal of electric cars.

The Metal-Air Ionic Liquid battery that Friesen and his researchers are designing will use ionic liquids as its electrolytes, instead of water-based electrolytes. Ionic liquids are salts that remain liquid in sub-zero temperatures or above the boiling point of water. Metal-air batteries have typically relied on water-based electrolytes; but they fail prematurely due to water evaporation.

Finding an ionic liquid to use instead of water would solve the problems that restrict the energy density of batteries now. Water also has a relatively low electrochemical window: it starts to decompose when the cell exceeds 1.23 volts. Because ionic liquids have electrochemical stability windows of up to 5 volts; it allows you to use much more energy-dense metals than zinc. The research team will target energy densities of at least 900 watt-hours per kilogram and up to 1,600 watt-hours per kilogram.

The US Department of Energy is currently headed by Nobel prizewinning scientist Dr. Steven Chu who spent much of his career at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). And it’s no surprise that Chu has tapped Arun Majumdar, the director of LBNL head up the ARPA-E program. Arun is responsible for materials science innovations such as using nanotechnology to harness the energy lost as heat during the production of electricity.

So their bet that this group can deliver a lower cost, better battery using a fundamentally new paradigm in electrochemical energy devices is probably a pretty good bet.

Fluidic Energy was one of 37 groups to receive a total of $151 million in funding from ARPA-E (the E denotes energy). It’s modeled on the successful Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) government funding that gave us, among other things; the ARPANET, the precursor of the internet.

Government funding of research has led to other game-changing technologies, notably the internet browser. Netscape founder Andreessen who created the first web browser, said of government involvement in its development; “If it had been left to private industry, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Image: Center for American Progress

Source: Technology Review



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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today, PV-Insider , SmartGridUpdate, and GreenProphet. She has also been published at Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.



  • John

    I’ve always been skeptical of electric cars because of the low energy density of batteries. Whenever we hear impressive claims of some breakthrough technology, it’s usually a flash in the pan — the company or researcher is never heard from again. I hope this time is different, but I’m not counting on it.

  • John

    I’ve always been skeptical of electric cars because of the low energy density of batteries. Whenever we hear impressive claims of some breakthrough technology, it’s usually a flash in the pan — the company or researcher is never heard from again. I hope this time is different, but I’m not counting on it.

  • John

    I’ve always been skeptical of electric cars because of the low energy density of batteries. Whenever we hear impressive claims of some breakthrough technology, it’s usually a flash in the pan — the company or researcher is never heard from again. I hope this time is different, but I’m not counting on it.

  • http://marysramblins.blogspot.com Mary Matzek

    I see no reason for battery technology not to get better. Hail, hail. I love it.,

    Mary Matzek

  • http://marysramblins.blogspot.com Mary Matzek

    I see no reason for battery technology not to get better. Hail, hail. I love it.,

    Mary Matzek

  • http://marysramblins.blogspot.com Mary Matzek

    I see no reason for battery technology not to get better. Hail, hail. I love it.,

    Mary Matzek

  • Bud Bundy

    So does this mean the battery could be drained and refilled with charged liquid at a roadside or even a home charging station?

  • Bud Bundy

    So does this mean the battery could be drained and refilled with charged liquid at a roadside or even a home charging station?

  • Bud Bundy

    So does this mean the battery could be drained and refilled with charged liquid at a roadside or even a home charging station?

  • co2

    Just swap the whole battery pack, less messy and guaranteed to work. Just need to come up with a standard, modular form factor that all cars use. Then you can just stop at a “gas” station and swap out your cars battery modules for charged ones at the station.

    This could be done using some form of lease plan where either the car manufacturers, or – if they are smart – the gas companies could buy the batteries and prorate the price of the battery over the lifetime of the battery (say 500 charge cycles), or require the owners to lease a battery from the gas companies.

  • co2

    Just swap the whole battery pack, less messy and guaranteed to work. Just need to come up with a standard, modular form factor that all cars use. Then you can just stop at a “gas” station and swap out your cars battery modules for charged ones at the station.

    This could be done using some form of lease plan where either the car manufacturers, or – if they are smart – the gas companies could buy the batteries and prorate the price of the battery over the lifetime of the battery (say 500 charge cycles), or require the owners to lease a battery from the gas companies.

  • co2

    Just swap the whole battery pack, less messy and guaranteed to work. Just need to come up with a standard, modular form factor that all cars use. Then you can just stop at a “gas” station and swap out your cars battery modules for charged ones at the station.

    This could be done using some form of lease plan where either the car manufacturers, or – if they are smart – the gas companies could buy the batteries and prorate the price of the battery over the lifetime of the battery (say 500 charge cycles), or require the owners to lease a battery from the gas companies.

  • http://Web Wayne Williamson

    Susan,
    Anything new on this or was this just a take the money and run thing…
    ps..their website has nothing….

  • http://Web mattk

    so long as its rechargeable, you dont want the gas/fuel companys having control of the battery packs you spoke of. Part of the appeal of electric cars to me is the price to run them. If they had to be swappable packs then that would not be good. Renewable with the energy coming from wind or solar is the way to go.

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