Numerous people enjoy the idea of a battery-electric vehicle that operates free of gasoline. It’s an understandable appeal, too, one that goes past the environmentally and emissions-conscious, as electric motors can provide a host of benefits beyond saving money per mile. As Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) has shown the world, the lack of an internal combustion engine doesn’t necessarily imply a lack of performance.
However, there are a few drawbacks that have so far prevented widespread adoption of electric vehicles: The cost of the cells often prevent the cars from competing from a price perspective, and perhaps more importantly, electric vehicles have trouble matching the range of comparable gasoline vehicles. This is what Volkswagen AG (VLKAY.PK) is hoping to address with a secretive skunkworks project, Green Car Reports reports.
Volkswagen is reportedly working on a battery that takes up the same footprint as the one currently sitting in the e-Golf, a 24.2 kWh unit, which would instead hold about 80 kWh worth of energy — about the same as a range-topping Tesla Model S. The kicker is that it would offer considerably more range than the current EVs, many of which offer around 100 miles, while taking up no more room than it does now, helping the car conserve weight and boosting its range by a factor of three.
It was not disclosed how Volkswagen plans on packing the extra juice into the battery pack, but if it were to see production, it would have significant ramifications for plug-in hybrids and EVs. It would also give Tesla, one of the current EV leaders, a serious run for its money. However, Heinz-Jakob Neusser, the Volkswagen Group board member overseeing its development, confirmed that it’s a lithium-air unit.
Lithium-air batteries “consume aluminum as a fuel, allowing for an energy density that far surpasses conventional battery technologies and even begins to rival gas and diesel,” ExtremeTech reported about a year ago – at least, that’s how one Israeli company’s lithium-air cells work.
“In a conventional battery, the chemical reaction is entirely internal, which is why batteries tend to be very dense and heavy,” ExtremeTech reports. “In a metal-air battery, energy is produced by the oxidization of a metal — lithium, zinc, aluminum — with the oxygen coming from the air around us, rather than being stored in the battery, resulting in a much lighter battery.”
Imagine electric vehicles with triple the range: a 600-mile Tesla, plug-in hybrids that can go 50 to 60 miles on electricity alone, et cetera. If this technology reaches production, it would be one less barrier for EVs to overcome. Don’t hold your breath yet, though, since Volkswagen hasn’t given a tentative timeline for the technology. As the ExtremeTech article said, other companies are working on similar batteries for automotive use, too, so we might see these developments coming sooner than expected.