Eventually, according to Chiang, batteries based on the technology could replace those in hybrid vehicles, at one-fifth of the weight, potentially leading to either better gas mileage or higher battery performance for the same weight. The company has been talking to auto manufacturers, and the U.S. Department of Energy is currently evaluating the batteries to see if they meet the benchmarks for cycle life (the number of times a battery can be recharged) and power for hybrid vehicles. Chiang also suggests that the batteries could be used in power lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners, and electric scooters.
The company says the batteries can withstand ten times more rechargings than other lithium ion batteries, can be charged to 90% capacity in just five minutes, and can be fully charged in less that 15 minutes.
Another advantage of using lithium iron phosphate is its lower cost. Right now, lithium ion batteries use cobalt instead of iron in the cathode. Cobalt is far more expensive than iron.
“What the world needs is not another battery,” says MIT electrochemist Donald Sadoway. “What the world needs is a high-performance, cheap battery. If people can build a high-performance battery that relies on iron, that’s a big step forward.”
The new batteries also address a major concern with powerful lithium ion batteries: safety. According to Chiang his new material is “chemically so stable” that it results in a battery that is much less likely to leak or explode.
* The original version of the story read: “But they’ve never been used for more power-hungry machines like power tools and hybrid vehicles, mainly because of their high cost, their inability to provide adequate current, and safety questions.” The phrase “never been used” was changed because E-One Moli Energy Ltd., Maple Ridge, B.C., Canada, has produced a version of a lithium ion battery that was introduced for use in power tools at the beginning of this year.