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Technology designed in the 1800s may be the key to unlocking the future of EV batteries: 'A savior in the EV market'

"It is a long-range, budget-friendly, lightweight, and recyclable source of energy."

“It is a long-range, budget-friendly, lightweight, and recyclable source of energy."

Photo Credit: iStock

The future of electric vehicle battery tech may derive from science dating to the 1800s.

ET Auto reported that tech companies, including Phinergy and Log9, are developing metal-air technology for EVs that could be ready for commercialization within the year. As Popular Science reported, the concept was first developed in 1878.

If the lithium-ion alternative successfully enters the market, it could allay fears in the industry about lithium supplies needed for the growing sector and concerns from watchdogs about the environmental impacts of mining the metal. 

But, experts need to overcome a huge hurdle before automakers start attaching metal-air power packs to their EVs: rechargeability. So far, metal-air batteries need to be replaced once exhausted. As ET noted, battery swapping stations are one proposal in India to provide a quick changeover. 

What's more, there is great potential that is keeping the experts interested in the tech. The batteries use common, cheaper metals (aluminum and iron among them) as an anode and air as the cathode. Most EV batteries have graphite anodes and metallic cathodes. The ions in metal-air batteries are formed as metal dissolves in the electrolyte, the substance where the crucial charge/discharge chemistry happens, all per a description from EE Power. 

While the chemistry is different from traditional lithium-ion batteries, it's part of a power pack with big advantages, including greater energy storage (estimated at up to 15 times that of lithium-ion) in relation to mass, a metric referred to as energy density. 

Photo Credit: Phinergy

Other perks include easy recyclability, being planet-friendly, and being cost-effective, per the ET report, which was written with benefits to the Indian market in mind. 

"It is a long-range, budget-friendly, lightweight, and recyclable source of energy that can arguably be a saviour in the EV market," Kriti Saraiya wrote for ET. 

The tech could also help reduce dependence on China for lithium. Chinese officials recently enacted stubborn export rules for graphite, a key part of existing battery tech, for "national security," according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

China is the world's third-largest lithium miner, at nearly 21,000 tons in 2022, per data collector Statista. Aluminum and iron, used in some metal-air batteries, are cheaper and easier to gather. 

For its part, India-based Log9, is using air, water, and aluminum in its metal-air packs. 

"Given Aluminium's abundance in the Earth's crust (8%) and lesser weight, these cells .... [are] economical and powerful at the same time," Log9 experts said on the company website. 

For reliable EV adoption, the experts will need to figure out a solution to rechargeability, and perhaps swapping stations will work. Another option, according to ET, is for the metal-air packs to serve as a "booster" for long-distance travel. 

"[I]n the future with adequate [research and development] on metal-air technology, it may be seen as potential hope for escalating EV adoption," Saraiya wrote

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