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Toyota invites collaboration on battery breakthrough

Magnesium battery discovery offered to all comers by Toyota to speed research

5 May 2016

A TOYOTA battery breakthrough that promises smaller, more power dense, cheaper, longer-lasting batteries made from magnesium has been revealed to other battery researchers around the world in the hope of speeding development to the production stage.

The discovery of a suitable electrolyte for a magnesium battery by scientists at the Michigan-based Toyota Research Institute of North America (TRINA) could mean a superior replacement for the current battery of choice, lithium-ion.

The bad news is that the new device, while promising, is expected to take up to two decades of refinement to get it to the production stage.

Scientists have long recognised magnesium as a potential battery material, but they have been foiled by the lack of a suitable electrolyte – the material that separates the magnesium anode from the cathode and facilitates the transfer of the electrons for power release.

The breakthrough at TRINA came when a scientist working on hydrogen storage materials, chemical engineer Rana Mohtadi, had a brainwave that one of the materials she was studying on might be suitable as an electrolyte for a magnesium battery.

“We were able to take a material that was only used in hydrogen storage and we made it practical and very competitive for magnesium battery chemistry,” Ms Mohtadi said. “It was exciting.”

Until now, the lack of a suitable electrolyte has prevented the battery scientists from taking the next step, to find a suitable cathode material.

That process is now underway, but according to Toyota, it could take 20 years to develop the cathode and bring the magnesium battery to the consumer market.

Faced with this time frame, Toyota decided to try to speed it up by throwing open its research to other scientists, publishing the details in an international chemical science publication.

Said Toyota researcher Oscar Tutusaus, who worked on the discovery with Ms Mohtadi: “We want to make this electrolyte a standard for magnesium batteries, and we want other researchers to develop it further so these batteries can see the light of day.”

Toyota says that unlike lithium, magnesium does not ignite when exposed to the air, meaning it does not need to be embedded in graphite rods like lithium to keep it stable.

With more metal available in each battery, the magnesium anode design means the potential to store more energy.

“But until now, research on magnesium-based batteries was limited because a magnesium-friendly electrolyte did not exist.”

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