Toyota's Next Big Battery? Not Lithium, But Perhaps Magnesium

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.

Source: Bloomberg

Fred Paget
I wonder why they don't do the obvious and swap out the battery at the filling station . Rather like they swap cassettes in the old vcr's. That way the batteries belong to the filling station company and they can take care of them and charge at the optimum rate to be determined by inventory and charge rates. And also economics.
Also agree strongly with reinCARnate. There remains a lot of naivete about what a practical EV should be. As an engineer on EV1, we heard the same arguments (even within ranks) that an EV must equate to a gas car - not so. A 100 mile EV has enormous market potential, but is not for everybody - that's okay. Making a 300 mile EV is a little bit nuts, IMO. The battery is very expensive and you will use that 290th mile very rarely. It would still not be convenient for multi-state vacation travel. Here's hoping there is a high-tech fast charging station right where you need it along your route in Oklahoma! Volt is a great compromise alternative for people who don't want to use 2 separate vehicles. Both solutions are part of the future if and when gas prices continue to rise due to world demand versus finite supply.
ken bykurt
I strongly believe that a battery technology as good or better than that described by Toyota will arrive long before that 10 year mark. You can't do much with the Volt when better batteries come along - that proprietary battery was baked in and there's no way to convert to electric anyway - the entire system is tied tightly to both battery and ICE. Tesla, on the other hand, will offer a Model S with various battery size options (all using mass produced laptop 18600 format batteries) that provide 150, 230 and 300 mile driving ranges. Quickcharges are possible in 45 minutes, making trips in an EV practical affairs. The Tesla Model S is superbly designed as an EV from the ground up and is way beyond the Volt no matter how it is evaluated - on looks (no contest), suspension, overall chassis engineering, drivetrain, accelaration (no contest) ,mass produced low cost non-proprietary batteries, etc. It costs around 30% more than a Volt but is a giant step beyond the Chevy.
Good points, reinCARnate, especially on educating folks. However, won't that limit the buyer types of such vehicles?
Now that battery electric vehicles are becoming accepted by mainstream media, and by extension, the public, we will start seeing many battery innovations and improvements. More resources are now going to be dedicated to innovation in battery technology. The biggest problem right now with EV business strategy is that automakers are trying to sell EVs as an equivalent product to a gasoline car. The EV market should be handled differently, because the needs are different. Range is not an issue for many people (myself included). I don't mind renting a car for long trips on the weekend or planning my day ahead so I don't get stranded (which can happen with gas cars too by the way, and is the reason AAA exists). For me, the cost savings justifies any perceived inconveniences. As icing on the cake, I know I'm not contributing to wars over oil, and a technology which is killing our ecosystems slowly over time. It's win-win in my mind.

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