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Electric vehicle range could be tripled with new batteries

Scientists have discovered a new way to create batteries that could triple the distance that electric cars can travel on one charge.

University of Waterloo researchers have claimed a breakthrough which involves using negative electrodes made of lithium metal, a material with the potential to dramatically increase battery storage capacity.

“This will mean cheap, safe, long-lasting batteries that give people much more range in their electric vehicles,” said Quanquan Pang, who led the research.

The increased storage capacity, or energy density, could boost the distance electric vehicles are able to travel on a single charge, from about 200kms to 600kms.

Although Tesla recently unveiled an electric lorry capable of travelling 800kms on a single charge, it is not set to begin production until 2019 and its large size makes it able to carry a significantly weightier battery than an average electric car. 

In creating the technology, Pang and fellow researchers, including supervisor Linda Nazar, a professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at Waterloo, had to overcome two challenges.

The first challenge involved a risk of fires and explosions caused by microscopic structural changes to the lithium metal during repeated charge-discharge cycles.

The second involved a reaction that creates corrosion and limits both how well the electrodes work and how long they last.

Researchers solved both problems by adding a chemical compound made of phosphorus and sulphur elements to the electrolyte liquid that carries electrical charge within batteries.

The compound reacts with the lithium metal electrode in an already assembled battery to spontaneously coat it with an extremely thin protective layer.

“We wanted a simple, scalable way to protect the lithium metal,” said Pang. “With this solution, we just add the compound and it works by itself.”

The novel approach paves the way for electric vehicle batteries that enjoy the benefits of lithium metal electrodes - greater storage capacity and therefore greater driving range - without comprising safety or reducing lifespan.

Recent draft UK legislation includes a clause that petrol stations across the UK will need to install electric vehicle charging stations. 

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