Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Magnesium-Ion Batteries: An Electric Vehicle Revolution?

Magnesium-Ion Batteries: An Electric Vehicle Revolution?

Gasoline prices aren’t showing any signs of falling for the long term, and the public’s desire for more fuel-efficient cars certainly has the attention of the automobile industry. Toyota, a pioneer in hybrid battery utilization, is attempting to move past the traditional lithium-ion battery towards what it hopes will be the material that revolutionizes the industry. They’re hoping to meet the expectations of the American consumer, maximizing battery life, safety, and environmental responsibility. Magnesium-Ion batteries may be provide the ultimate solution.

Hop on the Band Wag-Ion

Toyota is not alone in their enthusiasm. The Department of Energy has hopped on board as well. Their Advanced Research Projects Agency has invested heavily in the technology. Magnesium producers are hopeful that the strong expectations of the consumer in combination with Toyota’s push to develop the more cost-effective and lightweight magnesium-ion battery will mean success for them.

A Bountiful Resource

Magnesium is the eighth most abundant element found in our earth’s crust, which brings environmentalists on board as big fans of the new research. Magnesium is also inexpensive and safe. The hypothetical future of magnesium batteries is secured by the promise that they could deliver a drop-in replacement for the traditional lithium-ion batteries that are now being used. Magnesium Sulfate is commonly known as Epsom salt. Environmentally speaking, using magnesium in our common batteries would be a big improvement over lithium-ion batteries.


One of the most recyclable products we use in America is the car battery. Up to 99% of most automotive batteries can be recycled, however they are dirty to manufacture. Environmentalists are asking for a battery made with materials that don’t require highly polluting methods of manufacturing, even though the really nasty stuff found in today’s batteries is used in very small quantities.

Investments Paying Dividends

The Department of Energy gave Pellion Technologies, Inc 3.2 million dollars in April of 2010 to develop technology that could turn magnesium into a new, better source of energy. Pellion says that its rechargeable magnesium battery will have up to three times the energy density as lithium-ion batteries. The company also claims their batteries will last longer.

Pellion explains that the new magnesium battery boasts a higher energy per unit volume / energy density than the lithium-ion batteries currently being used in electric vehicles. There are two reasons for this. Magnesium-ions transfer two electrons for each atom, not just one. That means getting double the energy density from a magnesium battery than you do from a lithium battery. Also, a magnesium-ion battery uses a magnesium metal anode which is another source of greater energy density, compared to the lithium-ion anodes.

The Catch

So what’s the holdup? Unfortunately, the folks at Toyota and Pellion have yet to identify a suitable complementary cathode for their promising new technology. Doron Aurbach, an Israeli professor, received quite a bit of attention in 2000 with the first rechargeable magnesium battery.

But the cathode he used didn’t work sufficiently well to enable commercial use of the invention. His cathode decreased the energy density of the battery to the point that the device was unusable. Research is ongoing, but the technology remains stagnant. Pellion is determined to find a suitable cathode. They have tested over 10,000 materials for potential use in its magnesium battery. Even though magnesium is only one of many lithium substitutes that could prove suitable, it’s a favorite for Pellion. Toyota says it’s magnesium battery may be available as soon as 2020.

Any electric car that can drive 500 miles on a single charge will likely require a technology that moves past the traditional lithium-ion battery. It’s impossible to say whether this new technology will be a magnesium-ion battery or if it will still be lithium, but perhaps not lithium-ion. For the moment, Toyota and Pellion have directed their time and resources to the magnesium possibility. With some luck, the possibilities could revolutionize the future of the auto industry.

Magnesium Image By Warut Roonguthai (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

George Zeed lives in Grants Pass Oregon and works for ImpactBattery.com.  An avid outdoorsman and environmentalist, he writes about topics related to all kinds of recreational vehicles and accessories. He is also the "go to guy" for information when shopping for a great selection sunlinq products and discount Motobatt batteries.

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