Ingredient in Toothpaste Could Boost EV Range

Argonne National Laboratory scientists have found a fluoride electrolyte that could potentially improve the range and performance of next-generation electric vehicle batteries by enhancing EV battery energy density and extending battery lifespan. Sodium fluoride is a fluorine compound that acts as a raw ingredient in many toothpaste brands, thanks to its ability to protect teeth from decay. A recent study involving the fluorine compound has uncovered previously unknown applications for fluorine-containing compounds that could revolutionize the nascent electric vehicle sector.

Electric vehicles represent the next era of vehicular transportation characterized by low to zero-emission transportation largely powered by clean energy. Most automakers have pledged to replace their vehicle lines with electric cars, and the U.S. government is investing billions of dollars to accelerate the growth of the country’s EV industry.

However, range anxiety is a major barrier to EV adoption for most drivers. Investing in widespread and reliable networks of charging infrastructure and developing efficient and energy-dense electric vehicle batteries can ultimately allow the EV industry to overcome this barrier. According to Argonne’s Chemical Sciences and Engineering division group leader, Zhengcheng (John) Zhang, a new era of EV batteries that surpass conventional lithium-ion designs is “on the horizon.”

The research team achieved this feat by replacing the electrolyte in conventional battery designs with a fluoride solvent that provides protection for hundreds of charging and discharging cycles. This new fluoride-based electrolyte allowed test battery cells to maintain their performance over hundreds of cycles. Nonlithium-ion batteries offer more than two times the energy density in relation to weight compared to lithium-ion batteries. Furthermore, they are much more efficient and can power electric cars for longer travel distances, opening the possibility of developing batteries powerful enough to run long-haul trucks and even aircraft.

Current electric vehicle batteries become inefficient after a certain weight as the additional weight cancels out any extra energy. Larger batteries are also more expensive to produce and would ultimately increase the cost of EVs. As such, automakers can’t add larger battery packs to their EV models to increase their range; they ideally need more energy-dense battery designs that can store more energy at the same or even less weight and at low costs.

Developing batteries for long-haul trucks and aircraft would significantly accelerate U.S. efforts to cut emissions from transportation. On top of higher energy density, nonlithium-ion battery designs are more resistant to the degradation caused by repeated cycles of charging and discharging. This allows the batteries to retain more of their range over time, preserving their performance for longer and giving them a longer lifespan.

Additionally, the fluoride electrolyte is cheaper to produce, more ecofriendly and resistant to fires compared to conventional lithium-ion batteries. Zhang says the battery design’s usefulness will “extend to other types of battery systems outside of lithium-ion.”

Given that the electric vehicle industry is still in its infancy, it is plausible to expect that as competition becomes tougher, startups such as Fisker Inc. (NYSE: FSR) will have to come up with significant innovations in battery technology and other aspects in order to stand a chance of surviving and thriving in an industry that is already crowded in some major markets.

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