The battery of the future

During a recent trip to Japan, Michel Armand, a professor in the Chemistry Department at Université de Montréal, got behind the wheel of a Toyota Prius. This hybrid car is a big hit in the land of the Rising Sun. Up to a speed of 30 km/h, it is propelled solely by electricity, then the gasoline engine takes over. When the car brakes the recovered energy serves to recharge the battery, so the system can run for several years; its gas consumption, meanwhile, is cut in half. Since cars pollute at low speeds, this car works wonders by reducing carbon monoxide emissions in big cities,” says the renowned researcher who helped develop the battery under the hood of the Prius.

A big supporter of environmentalism, the director of the only Canadian laboratory of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (France), and holder of the Hydro Québec chair for electrochemistry, has dedicated his career to energy storage. He describes himself as a big fan of basic research, but this hasn't stopped him from putting his name on more than 80 patents for inventions. Lately, another one of his inventions, the iron-lithium phosphate battery, completed a world tour. “In my opinion, the development of energy storage technology is comparable to the invention of the transistor in the electronics industry. Since the battery was invented by Alessandro Volta in 1800, it has taken almost 200 years to increase battery capacity by a factor of five.”

Michel Armand and his colleague Michel Gauthier, a guest Researcher at Université de Montréal, have set up a company called Phostec to market this new technology, which has been presented at several international congresses. Because it is iron-based, the battery is safer, less expensive and less polluting and than the currently used cobalt-based battery. According to Mr. Gauthier, the discovery is a major one in the western world. “The ecological battery responds to a need in the portable electricity sector, an industry that is key to the future. “ Portable computers, vehicles and communication systems could benefit from this sort of innovation. If the process proves to be as effective as the laboratory tests suggest, we will have to get ready to supply the entire world market with lithium batteries, a market representing 10 billion euros a year. “When Michel Armand told me that a physicist in Texas, John Goodenough, had found a material capable of improving electricity storage that met our ecological criteria, I felt a chill run down my spine,” Mr. Gauthier tells us. But they were still a long way from a working model. A way had to be found to increase the capacity of the electrode. The researchers acquired the rights from the Texas physicist before conducting experiments. The breakthrough occurred when they got the idea to cover the electrode with a layer of carbon.

Researcher: Michel Armand
Telephone: (514) 343-7604
Email: michel.armand@umontreal.ca
Funding: Hydro-Québec, Centre national de la recherche scientifique (France)


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