Volkswagen Announces Plans to Work on Lithium-Air Batteries



It has been confirmed that Volkswagen is working on a powerful new battery for its EV fleet. Speaking at the Geneva motor show, Dr. Heinz-Jakob Neusser said that “an 80kWh unit is under development using our own technology. It would provide between three and four times the battery power in a given package.” This means that a battery of equivalent physical size to that used in the new 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf could hold the amount of energy in a top-end Tesla Model S.

Neusser refused to name the specific battery chemistry, but didn’t deny it’s a lithium-air unit. Lithium-air has been a battery holy grail of sorts since the 1970s, but obstacles such as electrolyte degradation, manufacturability, and high cost have prevented the lithium-air takeover that would truly catapult EVs into the mainstream. But improvements on lithium-air technology continue to move forward with recent work by researchers from Mie University in Japan.

The primary distinction between lithium-ion and lithium-air batteries is that lithium-air batteries replace the cathode with air — which results in a notably lighter battery, with the potential to hold in a great deal of energy. Some researchers have stated that these “breathing” batteries could result in EVs with ranges greater than 300 miles a charge.

“Our system’s practical energy density is more than 300 Wh/kg,” Nobuyuki Imanishi, PhD stated. “That’s in contrast to the energy density of a commercial lithium-ion battery, which is far lower, only around 150 Wh/kg.”

A technology breakthrough of this kind could transform the range capability of hybrids and EVs, and Volkswagen isn’t the first car manufacturer to recognize the potential. Toyota Motor Corporation has tried to avoid the use of lithium-ion batteries, like those present in its Prius Plugin-EV and RAV4 EV, as much as possible due to their high cost. But the company is currently conducting research on the use of lithium-air technology.

“As Toyota anticipates the widespread use of electric vehicles in the future, we have begun research in developing next-generation secondary batteries with performance that greatly exceeds that of lithium-ion batteries,” Toyota wrote.

If Volkswagen and Toyota are successful in developing lithium-air batteries, that could mean bad news for Tesla Motors, which is currently in the process of bringing Elon Musk’s planned “gigafactory” into life. The factory would enable the car manufacturer to dramatically increase lithium-ion battery production.

But Musk shouldn’t abandon his plans just yet. Volkswagen hasn’t provided a timeframe for these new batteries, regulating its announcement to the “wouldn’t it be nice” category for now.

And it would be nice to have Tesla-like range in a new, compact EV car, don’t you think?

Source: The Telegraph | Image: Jo Borras/

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  • WrongPassword

    Yup. If lithium air became viable before the Gigafactory is completed, Tesla would be toast. As mentioned before though, work on this has been happening since the 70’s and no time frame has been established on when a viable battery would be completed. If lithium air becomes viable within the decade, the plant would still be in trouble. If not, Lithium Ion will likely continue to be thrive

  • Jonas Johan Solsvik

    Even if VW launch a prototype in 2015, they still have to scale up and build their own Gigafactory which may take many years. I think Tesla is safe until 2020. And then Tesla is ready to move on to the next technology aswell.

  • Bi-Polar Bear

    This article highlights both the promise and the curse of new technology. On the one hand, back in the 70’s, people predicted the end of the internal combustion engine and those godawful motors of that era deserved to die! But advances in electronics and metallurgy have allowed the ICE to thrive, with current units in basic road cars producing the kind of power per unit of displacement previously achievable only in the most advanced racing engines.

    Battery technology will experience a similar explosion of innovation over the next several decades. By 2050, batteries will exist that weigh a fraction of today’s units but hold enough energy to power a vehicle many hundreds of miles and recharge in the time it takes today’s drivers to fill their fuel tanks.

    But in the meantime, buyers of new vehicles will be faced with the same problem that buyers of computers experienced in the 80’s and 90’s. By the time you get them home to your driveway, the technology will be obsolete, which will have a strongly negative impact on resale value. Also, lithium is still a rare earth mineral with limited supply around the world. China has been ultra aggressive in buying up the rights to lithium reserves, suggesting the possibility of geopolitical consequences in the future similar to those that have surrounded oil reserves over the last century or so.

    Finally, lithium is toxic. What plans are being made to recycle these batteries once the reach the end of their useful life? Will we just throw them into landfills along with the millions of discarded tires already there?

    Technology is always a double edged sword. It can benefit mankind or it can wreak havoc on civilization. Asbestos, once hailed as “the miracle element”, is probably the most recent example that some people may remember.

    • Dan Hue

      Lithium is not a rare earth element (, nor is it toxic. In fact, lithium ion batteries are not considered hazardous waste (they contain no heavy metal). It would be a good idea to recycle the lithium, because while relatively abundant, it’s not inexhaustible and who knows how much we will need in the future. I believe I read somewhere that there was ~5kg of lithium per capita on earth, which is enough to power a lot of things, but not if we start wasting it.

      • Dan Hue

        The 5kg, if correct, must come from estimated reserves that can be mined. For example, Wikipedia lists 13,000,000 tons (1.8kg/person), but that does not include suspected reserves in other named locations, like Afghanistan. However, the article also mentions 230 billion tons (!) in the sea, so the issue may be moot…

  • JackB125

    The Tesla Gigafactory is being designed to be as chemistry neutral/adaptable as possible. You have it backwards about changes in battery chemistry and the Tesla Gigafactory. They are not worried about changes in battery chemistry; rather, they are counting on it.

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