Just as every new technology thrives on its own promise, drawbacks and flaws in the initial design also hold back progress. For example, computers were once the size of a room. Calculators were initially too expensive for most people to own. Until recently, solar and wind power were seen almost exclusively as the domain of large industries.
Through research and innovation, all of these technologies have been able to overcome their initial obstacles to a greater or lesser degree on their paths to becoming more affordable and accessible to mainstream consumers.
The same may be said of the electric vehicle (EV). Despite its recent surge in popularity and the promise it holds for helping the nation to wean itself off of foreign oil, the technology still suffers from some major flaws, which make it less than a practical consideration for most drivers who are in the market to buy a car. Chief among these flaws are the high cost, long charge times and short driving range.
All of these flaws can be traced to the integral component of the EV: its battery. Lithium-ion batteries have been the blessing and the curse of electric and hybrid vehicles. A common element in rechargeable consumer electronics, they possess the desirable qualities of high energy density and slow loss of charge when not in use, which makes them an ideal candidate for EVs.
On the other hand, the high cost and the limited range of EVs also represent a great drawback. These vehicles typically have a range of only slightly more than 100 miles even in the most ideal conditions, which means drivers can’t go far before they have to plug in and wait for the battery to recharge.
Recently, scientists with the Toyota Research Institute of North America (TRINA) conducted research on alternative components that could spur the development of a less expensive, longer lasting EV battery. Results of their research were announced in the scientific journal Chemical Communications.
In the article, the scientists describe tests on a battery made of magnesium and a tin anode insert. Magnesium is the eighth most common element in the Earth’s crust, in contrast to lithium, which is far less common, and it has a higher positive charge of two compared to lithium’s one. All of this means that a magnesium battery would be less expensive to manufacture than a lithium battery, and it could store more power, which would increase the range of the car.
Don’t expect to see EVs powered by magnesium-ion batteries any time soon. Technical and scientific hurdles remain, and the typical time for a concept to travel from scientific breakthrough to mass commercialization can often be as long as 10 years. Until then, stay close to home.