Toyota and BMW have entered a partnership that will work on next generation “lithium-air” batteries as power sources for their EVs. No capital will be pooled but both sides think that the joint R&D capabilities could accelerate progress toward a viable battery.
Lithium air batteries use air as the cathode and IBM has said that the batteries could hold at least 10 times more energy than current lithium ion batteries, which power cars like the Tesla Model S. The experimental batteries have been hyped for a long time, particularly because they are claiming breakthroughs in energy density, the biggest pain point for renewable energy storage right now.
And even if the technology can be perfected there are concerns that it’s not a good fit for a vehicle given that it requires an air compressor to pump oxygen into the battery system and that it must be watertight because exposing lithium to air makes for a very flammable situation. Come to think of it, with the problems Boeing is having with the Dreamliner lithium ion batteries right now, it’s been a bad week all around for old lithium.
All that said, Toyota and BMW will plow on, taking on what is a high risk but also an extremely high reward project. The talk is of an EV with a lithium air battery that could go 500 miles on a charge, which would be that research reward many companies are dreaming of.