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MIT researchers rethink electric-car batteries

Wed, 08 Jun 2011

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say a new battery design for electric vehicles could be a lightweight and inexpensive alternative.

The goal for the team's three-year project, launched in September 2010, is to have a functioning prototype ready to be engineered as a replacement for existing electric-car batteries.

At this point in the project, the prototype uses a “semi-solid flow” to separate the two functions of a battery--storing energy and discharging it when needed--into separate physical structures. The researchers say this should make it possible to cut the size and cost of a battery system in half, making electric vehicles fully competitive in the market.

The researchers say another potential advantage of the system would be “refueling” the battery by pumping out the liquid slurry and pumping in a fresh, fully charged replacement, or just swapping out the tanks like tires at a pit stop. There would still be the option to recharge and preserve existing material if the driver had time.

Yury Gogotsi, a technology expert at Drexel University, says it would be possible to implement a practical, commercial version of such a battery, with better materials and more research.

“I don't see fundamental problems that cannot be addressed; those are primarily engineering issues,” Gogotsi told MIT. “Of course, developing working systems that can compete with currently available batteries in terms of cost and performance may take years.”

The new technology is being licensed to a company called 24M Technologies, founded last summer by some MIT professors overseeing the project.

By Michelle Koueiter