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Chicago researchers create EV battery prototype with 1,000-mile range

Researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory and the Illinois Institute of Technology have created a prototype battery with the potential to expand the range of electric vehicles to 1,000 miles. This could also be huge for sustainable aircrafts.

The average electric vehicle on the market will likely have a range of between 100 and 300 miles per charge, though automakers are striving for more with solid-state battery releases.

Unlike their lithium ion counterparts, these enhanced batteries are constructed from a solid electrolyte material, usually ceramic, which can hold more way more electricity per unit of mass than liquid or gel.

Experiments are ongoing to maximise the efficiency of solid-state batteries in order to bring the EV revolution full tilt before 2040. On that front, a huge milestone has recently been recorded in Chicago.

Researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory and the Illinois Institute of Technology teamed up to design a revolutionary battery that could power an EV for 1,000 miles on a single charge – as outlined in the journal Science.

They concluded that the highest potential for energy density was possible with a lithium air battery, a category touted for over a decade as a real rival to gasoline, but with no notable commercial breakthrough up to that point.

The team has finally put the theoretical science into practice in 2023, however, creating a powerful prototype condensed into roughly the size of a single coin. ‘It’s all about the chemistry and energy density,’ said lead chemical engineer of the study Mohammad Asadi.

In this battery, the anode is made of a solid form of lithium. Air flows in through tiny holes in the cathode, and oxygen reacts with lithium ions that have passed through the solid electrolyte to generate electricity.

What makes this particular model so ground-breaking, is that each oxygen molecule reportedly reacts with up to four electrons at one time, which is unprecedented in prior testing. Scientists are now investigating to see what specific combination of factors is cajoling oxygen to respond at this frequency.

Technical details aside, the real-world applications for lithium air batteries are incredibly vast and promising. EV efficiency is undoubtedly top of the agenda, but Asadi is more intrigued by its potential to sustainably transform both maritime and aviation industries.

‘Those modes of transportation need so much energy that battery packs have been impractical because of the substantial size and weight that would be needed,’ he says.

Despite this early promise, the real challenge will involve scaling up the technology to function as effectively at around 100 times larger. It’s safe to assume we probably won’t see any market impact in the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, major automakers are working on solid-state batteries, either in-house like Toyota, or through partnerships with specialist manufacturers like QuantumScope and Solid Power. Company timelines differ, but many point to the next five years as a big breakout period.

Hopefully when that happens, EVs will not only be the more socially responsible option, but also the more economical. Argonne’s senior chemist Larry Curtis says solid-state batteries ‘can make the cars cheaper as well as go farther.’