TOKYO — Rivals Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co., Japan’s leading electrified vehicle makers, are developing battery technologies they hope will give them an edge with longer range.
Their research, announced separately this month, tweak the chemistry of next-generation power packs for denser energy storage to deliver longer drives for electric cars and hybrids.
Toyota is researching the use of magnesium, in place of lithium, as the base chemical for batteries that could appear in the next 20 years. Nissan is looking at additives that will improve the performance and energy capacity of today’s lithium batteries.
The r&d efforts are pushing the carmakers into new frontiers of chemistry for an industry determined to electrify its future products.
Toyota’s approach studies replacing the lithium electrolyte now used in lithium ion batteries with a magnesium-based one. Electrolyte is the liquid in a battery that separates the negative and positive poles and through which ions pass.
Toyota says magnesium has two advantages over lithium.
1. It allows for denser energy storage.
2. It is safer than lithium, which is regarded as an unstable metal prone to fire risk.
Researchers at the Toyota Research Institute of North America say they have developed a way to make a magnesium electrolyte by applying materials used in hydrogen storage.
The catch: Toyota says it could take 20 years to bring the science to mass production. That’s a long wait for such nameplates as the Prius, the world’s best-selling gasoline-electric hybrid.
Nissan’s push may be a little closer to market. Like Toyota, it is looking for new ways to improve battery performance for electrified cars. Its Leaf is the world’s best-selling EV, but sales are still comparatively modest because its range is limited.
Nissan’s idea is to improve the energy storage of lithium ion batteries by mixing in an additive called amorphous silicon monoxide. That chemical would allow batteries to hold more lithium ions, thereby improving the overall performance.
The challenge facing Nissan’s research engineers illustrates how complex future technologies will be: Until now, it has been difficult to figure out how to use amorphous silicon monoxide because there was no way of precisely determining its atomic structure. Nissan’s researchers resolved that by discovering a new way to analyze its atomic properties.
Nissan says the solution opens the door to using the new chemistry to produce longer-range EV batteries.
“The invention of this new analysis method is essential to further develop the next generation of high-capacity lithium ion batteries,” Nissan Senior Vice President Takao Asami said in a release. “It will certainly become one of our core technologies.”
Nissan’s development was a public-private team effort. Working on it were scientists from Nissan subsidiary Nissan Arc, Japan’s Tohoku University, Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science, the Japan Science and Technology Agency and the Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute.