Toyota may finally be close to rolling out lithium-ion battery packs in its production hybrid vehicles (the Prius plug-in, for instance, makes use of Li-Ion chemistry), but officials within the company are already talking about the next big thing in battery technology: magnesium-sulfur chemistry.
Toyota admitted to Bloomberg this week that it has begun development on magnesium-sulfur batteries for electric cars. The latest batch of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles to hit the market typically use lithium-ion batteries, similar to those found in laptops. Although more expensive, Li-Ion cells do hold more power than the nickel-metal hydride batters used in many hybrids, including Toyota's Prius.
According to Jeffrey Makarewicz, the engineer heading up the magnesium battery development at Toyota’s technical center just outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Toyota believes that the range offered by current EVs -- and, specifically their battery packs -- is simply uncompetitive. Makarewicz worries that the capacity of only 2,000 kilowatt hours in lithium-ion batteries will not be enough to make a competitive battery for future vehicles. Magnesium-sulfate batteries, however, can potentially hold twice as much power as the today's best lithium-ion cells.
Additionally, Toyota is playing around with other advanced battery types (including batteries with aluminum and calcium components), hoping to hone in on a formula that could provide consumer-friendly range and quick recharge times. According to the EPA rating, the Nissan Leaf offers consumers roughly 73 miles of range, while the Chevy Volt provides about 35 miles of travel in its electric-only mode.
Makarewicz says that Toyota could have a new, longer-range battery ready as soon as ten years, but the automaker isn't expecting a huge demand for battery-only cars, largely due to the range disadvantage. After all, even the most inefficient gas-burning vehicle can generally travel over 100 miles on a single tank, and can be refueled in a matter of minutes.