Honda, CalTech and NASA’s JPL might have a real alternative to Li-ion batteries

Fluoride-ion battery technology would allow electric vehicles to continue working with smaller battery packs with less environmental impact.

Jake Holmes / Roadshow

Honda Research Institute has been working with scientists from the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on a new battery chemistry that, according to a published article, could be a higher energy, more environmentally friendly alternative to lithium-ion batteries on Friday in Science Magazines.

Right now, the world’s electric cars are – with one few exceptions – powered by lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion has many advantages over older battery chemistries such as nickel-metal hydride, thanks to its lower charge and discharge rates and the fact that it is less likely to develop a “memory” if it is not consistently fully discharged before charging.

Lithium-ion batteries also have some major drawbacks, namely the environmental damage that occurs when lithium and cobalt break down and the cells’ tendency to do so catch fire and be very difficult to erase as soon as they do. The fluoride-based battery chemistry developed by Honda, NASA, and CalTech would solve many of these problems.

One of the most exciting benefits of fluoride chemistry is its potential to be much more energy dense than lithium. This would mean that an electric car equipped with this new battery technology could continue to travel with a physically much smaller battery pack with a pack of the same physical size or distance.

Fluoride-ion battery technology isn’t entirely new, but in previous versions the solid-state electrolyte had to be heated up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit to function properly. The advances made by Honda, JPL, and CalTech are the creation of a room temperature liquid fluoride electrolyte (also known as a tetraalkylammonium salt-fluorinated ether combination) and a copper-lanthanum trifluoride core-shell cathode (also a new development) that work together to create a functional cell . Teamwork, as they say, makes the dream work.

This is all pretty cool and very exciting, but don’t expect the next Honda Insight fluoride ion batteries to rock. The technology is promising, but probably far from being ready for mass production.

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