Automotive

Toyota battery breakthrough means magnesium could eventually replace lithium

Toyota battery breakthrough me...
The electrolyte has been the trouble spot for magnesium-based batteries, but Toyota's researchers may have cracked that, paving the way towards their production
The electrolyte has been the trouble spot for magnesium-based batteries, but Toyota's researchers may have cracked that, paving the way towards their production
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The electrolyte has been the trouble spot for magnesium-based batteries, but Toyota's researchers may have cracked that, paving the way towards their production
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The electrolyte has been the trouble spot for magnesium-based batteries, but Toyota's researchers may have cracked that, paving the way towards their production

Engineers at the Toyota Research Institute of North America (TRINA) think they've found the secret to using magnesium in rechargeable batteries. This would replace lithium as a safer, more energy-dense option for batteries in everything from cell phones to cars.

Magnesium has been considered a potential replacement for lithium in rechargeable batteries for some time. Lithium is not stable in air and can combust when exposed, so to make lithium-ion batteries safer, the ions are reduced and the lithium is embedded into graphite rods. This reduces the amount of metal (reducing density), which limits the amount of power the li-ion battery can store. To increase density, engineers have toyed with the mix of lithium and graphite and the shape of the cells, but the balance is tricky.

Magnesium, on the other hand, is stable in the atmosphere and more potentially energy dense than is lithium in terms of storage. The trouble is, forming an electrolyte that doesn't degrade the magnesium while offering efficient transfer had proven difficult – until a chance discovery during research into hydrogen fuel cells changed that.

Principal scientist and chemical engineer Rana Mohtadi of Toyota overheard colleagues discussing the challenges of developing a magnesium-friendly electrolyte. She realized that the properties of the hydrogen storage material she'd been working with might be conducive to a magnesium-based battery. They formed a team and set to work to test it.

The manager for Toyota's research group, Paul Fanson, attributes the discovery to the diversity of the research staff at TRINA and the collaborative nature of the facility's culture.

The team has produced a paper outlining the discovery, which was published in the Angewandte Chemie International Edition. They hope that other researchers outside of Toyota can find use in the material and hasten the development of usable magnesium-based batteries. There is still some way to go before we'll be slotting magnesium batteries into our smartphones with the researchers estimating that it could be 20 years before these batteries go mainstream. The hope is that making the discovery public may help speed up that timeline.

Learn more in the video below:

Source: Toyota

17 comments
nicho
Another could-be-a-better-battery-in-20yrs article .. wake me in 20yrs
VincentWolf
The future is EV's and nothing else.
PeterMortensene7877c8e180f4d2a
Perhaps in 20 years Magnesium becomes a dominant part of batteries for EVs. But, let's not forget that Lithium based batteries also will keep improving and we are already very soon hitting a point where EVs are becoming highly attractive as alternative to gas powered cars with cars like GM Bolt and Tesla Model 3 entering mainstream pricing with usable range.
Perhaps the truth is that Toyota is riding on a wrong horse with a name called "Hydrogen" that sounds cool on paper but doesn't deliver in terms of a number of issues including end-to-end energy efficiency, ability to provide the comfort of home charging, complexity of rolling out a fueling network, making hydrogen cars perform as good as EVs (especially horsepower) and so on.
DanielBarger
LiIOn batteries are notorious for burning things up. Magnesium can burn.....and once it does start burning it's a major PITA to get put out. So we'll see if they can make these work....and more importantly if they can be made to work safely.
Terence Hawkes
If this works as described, Rana deserves a Nobel because she will have brought an inexpensive very powerful battery to the world.
jerryd
Good comments so far. Mag is already in many lithium batteries. Like the Volt pack I bought for my next EV. There will be many battery types in 20yrs that will blow away present ones. In just 10yrs lithium will cost only $60/kwhr And only weigh 8lbs or so just following present trends. So any replacements need to be really good.
blitherer
A Hydrogen Fueled cell With Magnesium. What could go wrong when it's on fire?
AllenKitchen
20 years???
Hogwash. They have nothing -- nothing at all. They think it'll be more dense. I can think that batteries are powered by candy canes and unicorn farts. But that doesn't make it so.
If they had something that worked in the lab, then in 5 years they could be making money hand over fist with a better battery. The fact that they don't even have that, means this story is about nothing.
We have a term for this sort of thing. Vaporware.
habakak
In 20 years.....so in essence nothing. Vaporware. I guess Toyota is realizing that their hydrogen car is an inefficient dead-end so time to drum up some publicity.
Leo Elderkin
Your drawing has the plus / minus signs labelling the charge potential of the anode and cathode reversed, but the positive electrons are flowing in the correct direction from anode to cathode.