Monday, Dec. 06, 2010

Lithium-ion Batteries

It's not just electricity generation that will make a difference in the future, it's also energy storage. And that's especially true for mobile devices — whether that means iPhones or especially, electric cars. Low-capacity batteries have held back electric cars for decades, but that's beginning to change thanks to a new(ish) technology. The electronics of the 1990s — and most hybrid cars today — used nickel-ion batteries for power. They were an upgrade over the lead batteries used in the past, but they weren't strong enough to power electric cars for long distances.

Lithium-ion batteries, however, are a potential game-changer. If you use a laptop or a mobile phone, chances are you already own a lithium-ion battery. (Without them, your iPhone wouldn't even have the less-than-great operating life it does today.) Lithium-ion batteries can pack more power in a smaller case, so the battery for GM's plug-in hybrid Volt is tiny compared to the gigantic power pack that had been used on its EV1. A smaller battery is also lighter, which reduces the weight of the electric car and the power needed to drive it. The price on lithium-ion batteries still needs to come down — a battery for a new electric car can cost more than $10,000. But battery-making companies like A123 Systems in Massachusetts are already emerging as the future titans of a clean energy economy.