Breakthrough could lead to 732-mile electric car battery

A new material called Aluminum-Celmet can triple the energy capacity of lithium-ion batteries.

Although it's difficult to pinpoint what exactly it would take to alleviate electric car "range anxiety," but I'll go out on a limb and say that for the vast majority of people, oh, 732 miles on a charge would more than suffice.

While such a technology doesn't exist, Japanese researchers at Sumitomo Electric have come up with a breakthrough that could triple the energy capacity of lithium-ion batteries , and in effect make it a very real possibility. It's called Aluminum-Celmet, a 98 percent porous material that, when used in place of a standard aluminum foil anode, allows for electric car batteries to be packed with a lot more lithium.

Aluminum-Celmet is similar to nickel Celmet, a material that can be found in nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal hydride batteries. Both are produced using a process that involves applying an electro conductive coating to plastic foam, followed by nickel plating. The resulting material then undergoes heat treatment to remove the plastic foam, leaving behind something resembling a mesh fabric, but in metallic form. However, the difference is that Aluminum-Celmet is lighter, has better electrical conductivity and the kind of corrosion resistance necessary to hold up to the rigors that electric cars are put through each day.

The degree in which Celmet anodes may improve battery capacity is exponential. According to a company statement, the material could "increase battery capacity 1.5 to 3 times. Alternatively, with no change in capacity, battery volume can be reduced to one-third to two-thirds. These changes afford such benefits as reduced footprint of home-use storage batteries for power generated by solar and other natural sources , as well as by fuel cells."

That means the range of a Tesla Roadster , which has the top rated per charge distance, could be boosted to about 732 miles. Even the Nissan Leaf would suddenly be a lot more appealing if it was capable of going 219 miles, instead of the standard anxiety-inducing 73 miles per charge.

While this latest development is promising, Sumitomo Electric hasn't provided any sort of timeline of when they expect to scale up the technology for automotive markets. All the company is willing to say at this point is that it will continue to improve Aluminum-Celmet for commercial use in lithium-ion battery and capacitors. A good sign is that the company has set up a small-scale production line at Osaka Works in preparation for the manufacturing phase.

But if I had to take a gander, I'd say it might be a while -- that is if it ever does happen.

(via press release)

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