There is perhaps no mainstream automaker that has been more dismissive of electric vehicles than Toyota. So imagine my surprise when I read the Japanese automaker’s announcement that it had observed lithium-ion deviation in batteries, allowing for as much as a 15% increase in range and capacity of current battery technology. Is Toyota having second thoughts when it comes to hydrogen fuel-cell technology?
“The lithium-ion battery is a key technology for electrifying cars, and there is a clear need, going forward, for improving this technology and its performance even more,” said Toyota battery technology researcher Hisao Yamashige in the announcement. The so-called lithium ion deviation, which occurs in electrodes and the electrolyte as a result of charging/discharging, is believed to be responsible for both peak battery performance and eventual degradation, though researchers aren’t exactly sure why as the deviation was not possible to observe with standard scientific instruments.
Instead, Toyota turned to the SPring-8 synchrotron radiation facility which, according to Wikipedia, “…is used for materials analysis and biochemical protein characterization by many Japanese manufacturers and universities.” The facility also grants free use of their equipment, so long as the companies publish their results. I’m guessing Toyota saved quite a bit of money by sharing it with the public.
Toyota’s corporate line has been that electric vehicles are only good for short-range driving, and that hydrogen fuel-cells are a better option as a replacement for current car technology. Just last month, however, the automaker was rumored to be preparing a line of long-range electric vehicles for launch in 2020. Armed with this new information, Toyota could have a sizable advantage over other traditional automakers if it can offer 15% more driving range at a comparable price.
The flip side of this coin is that Toyota Mirai sales haven’t exactly been booming, hindered by a slow rollout of hydrogen fueling stations. Has Toyota seen the light? Or is the automaker merely keeping its options open?