Updated at 12:15 am on 6/3/08
Anyone who has followed the electric car industry over the past few decades has heard that, in addition to lackluster and inconsistent interest by gas-addicted Big Auto, the biggest hurdle facing widespread adoption of cleaner cars has been battery technology.
Now that gas prices are at record highs, it isn't surprising that past months would see various announcements of increased innovation and investment in this area.
Now, North Carolina-based Superlattice Power Inc has announced a successful move toward development of a new cathode material, which the company says "will be incorporated to a Lithium Ion Polymer battery that significantly increases operating voltage range and energy density."
Superlattice Power says its new Lithium Ion Polymer battery would allow electric vehicles to be driven over 200 miles, compared to the current 120 to 140 mile range. They are said to be able to operate at a voltage range of 4.3V to 2V.
What is a superlattice? It refers to the crystal structure of the compound, and indicates periodically alternating layers of several substances. In this context the superlattice is a cathode material in which part of the transition metal is substituted by lithium. Ideally it will have a wide voltage range and high capacity, and be non-toxic and disposable. Superlattice Power's work is based on cathode material made from manganese, cobalt, nickel and titanium.
The material has reportedly been synthesized at an industrial scale. Now, Superlattice Power has begun the process of optimizing the parameters suitable for large batteries, which will hopefully be used not only in electric vehicles but also in the field of Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS).
TDG asked Dr. Donald Sadoway, professor of materials chemistry at MIT and one of the world's leading experts on batteries, for his analysis of Superlattice Power's announcement. "It's hard to know what they have here," he says. "The critical feature is the ability of the compound to accept lithium, and to do so reversibly without breakdown of the atomic arrangement (conversion to another crystal structure). If the researchers can stabilize an atomic arrangement that exchanges lithium over many cycles of charging and discharging without loss of energy storage capacity (200 miles driving range), then this represents a major improvement."
Dr. Sadoway adds that the company would need to demonstrate that they can produce the material in large quantities at a cost that is competitive with the cheapest cathode materials currently available.
For his part, Dr. Surajit Sengupta, Director of Battery R&D for Superlattice, says, Our objective is to create the next generation of Lithium Ion Polymer battery that is environmentally non-toxic, safe, less expensive and more powerful.
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