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Battery Breakthrough at Japanese University

Lithium-ion batteries are popular among rechargeable batteries because of their longevity, but they pose a fire hazard. That problem could be solved if the batteries’ cells were solid state.

Researchers at Japan’s Tohoku University have done just that. Instead of dissolving lithium salts in organic liquids, which makes them susceptible to heat problems, they’ve turned to Lithium Borohydride (LiBH4), a rock salt used in organic chemistry labs that until now has worked in batteries only at high pressures or high temperatures.

The researchers report in the scientific journal APL Materials that they stabilized the high-pressure form of LiBH4 and made a solid solution that was stable at normal atmospheric pressure and room temperature.

Hitoshi Takamura, who led the research, suggested this finding could be broadly applied in the search for new battery technologies. “The urgency of this quest has been abundantly clear after the grounding of so many aircraft in recent months,” he said.

He was referring to lithium-ion batteries used on the Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Several of the new jetliners were grounded because of heat-related problems in their electrical systems linked to the batteries.

Meanwhile, a researcher at Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology has found a way to get more mileage out of the batteries that drive the electric element of a hybrid car without improving the performance of the battery itself.

Viktor Larsson noted that during long-distance driving, plug-in hybrid cars use the old-fashioned internal combustion engine more than they should have to. So he developed a method to make the vehicles remember frequent routes, leading to more efficient use of the battery.

Related Article: How Food Can Build Better Lithium Batteries

Even though hybrid cars can reduce reliance on fossil fuels, the use of a gasoline engine is still necessary during longer trips. When the car’s battery charge is depleted, the gasoline engine must take over, making the car no more energy efficient than a comparable vehicle using a conventional engine.

Larsson says he’s worked out a method that allows the car to identify recurrent routes and pre-compute when the battery should be used, as well as when running the car on gasoline is more energy efficient.

"After each trip, the vehicle can upload driving statistics to a [remote] server that identifies recurrent routes and calculates an optimal strategy for the energy management,” Larsson explains. “The strategy is transferred to the car. For the next trip, the car can either try to identify the route completely by itself or ask the driver to verify if any of the most common routes will be driven.”

What’s more, Larsson says, this technology can use existing technology and can be added to vehicles already in production. And the car need not rely on uploading the information to a remote server, he adds, because the same controlling software could be installed on the driver’s smart phone.

And that could mean big savings. Larsson says the method could reduce gasoline consumption by 10 percent.

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com



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