An air-breathing battery that can power cars for more than 500 miles on a single charge. Quite unreal isn’t it? But that’s exactly what IBM is trying to achieve. In 2009, IBM embarked on a quest dubbed as the “Battery 500 Project”. Essentially, the project’s main objective is to develop a new kind of battery that will be enough to operate a car for half a thousand miles. And the result is a light-weight, ultra high-density lithium-air battery that actually breathes air. How? It’s not that simple. In fact, you’ll need to check out the schematic below to fully understand it.

IBM’s lithium-air battery works by allowing oxygen to react with the soft element lithium to create lithium peroxide and electrical energy. So, each time the lithium battery is recharged, a reversal in the entire process transpires and thus, oxygen is released. That’s basically the reason why it’s coined as an “air-breathing” battery. And since the oxygen used in the process is exactly the air in the atmosphere, it is significantly lighter compared to the conventional batteries that we have today. While lithium-air batteries have been the subject of discussion since the 1970s, one thing is clear – we now have the necessary technology to support the theory, thanks to graphene and carbon nanotubes.

Furthermore, it is important to note that lithium-air batteries have a much higher energy density compared to lithium-ion or Li-ion batteries and, of course, gasoline. Theoretically speaking, lithium-air batteries have a maximum energy density of 12 kWh/ kg – approximately 15 times more than lithium-ion batteries. The question now is, “Can this technology replace gasoline?” Quite frankly, not yet. It will probably take some time, probably in the next few years. With IBM’s famous computer architecture, Blue Gene, and partners Central Glass and Asahi Kasei, a milestone in battery technology is dawning.

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