The new age of cars

You pull into the gas station and pump away; you know the gas is petroleum, it’s harmful, for the environment, but the question is, is there another alternate? Still in the works, the electric car is emerging.

In the United States new ways for electric cars are being developed, the biggest problem faced is the battery. Batteries for the cars are large and heavy. Another issue is the fact the car can only drive around 80 miles before needing to be charged again. Charging an electric car takes a lot longer than filling it up at the gas station.

At its most basic a battery contains a positive and negative electrode, a separator and an electrolyte. Many different types of materials can be used as electrodes, the different combinations of materials allowing different amounts of energy to be stored. Popular batteries are composed of lithium-ion which has been known to catch fire on planes, and are also difficult to transport. As far as batteries go first we had lead-acid batteries, the type that is still commonly used in cars; they are huge. Then, you might remember NiCad (nickel-cadmium) batteries – they were the rechargeable batteries that heralded a new era of portable technology – laptops, phones, and the like, as well as the remote control cars of our childhoods. Then came NiMH (nickel metal hydride) batteries, with about twice the capacity, or energy density. Now modern devices and electric cars are powered by lithium ion, or Li-ion, batteries.

Currently the batteries getting all the buzz are lithium-air, or more properly lithium-oxygen, as well as lithium-sulphur batteries. Li-oxygen batteries, if they can be made to work, under all conditions, will be an order of magnitude improvement over the current Li-ion batteries. Volkswagen has recently hinted that it is investigating lithium-air batteries. The precise chemical/ material combination that they are using has not been revealed as development work continues. The company’s engineers will not even say if the technology has been tested in a car, or if it is still at the ‘lab bench’ stage.

But although the technology has revolutionary potential, the technical challenges of making a Li-air battery work consistently, reliably, and safely – and crucially for extended durations – are large. So far the electrodes have proven unstable.

Labs around the world are working on the problem, hoping that soon a solution will arise to aid in the production of cars that can drive while not harming our planet.

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