German Battery Could Jump-Start Electric Car Production

New battery takes up 30% less volume that other batteries, says company.

German cars are known for strength, speed and high fuel consumption, but a firm in eastern Saxony has designed a lithium-ion battery membrane that could finally make electric cars common. For years, battery-powered cars have been hampered by technological hurdles, with researchers seeking to resolve problems of weight, autonomy and ways of recharging vehicles quickly and easily.

Recent progress towards lighter and more powerful batteries has been made however, in particular by groups like Toyota with its hybrid vehicles, and high-tech firms in France. Germans were said to be plodding along behind, but batteries made by the a firm called Li-Tec "take up 30% less volume than those from Toyota" and "allow you to go three times further for the same weight than French models," said Tim Schaefer, a director of the company in eastern Kamenz. "The foundations have now been laid" for the building of electric cars that also deliver performance, he added.

A spokesman for the German tool and auto parts company Bosch said: "It's a step towards totally electric cars."

Housed in a stylish rectangular silver pouch, the "Separion" consists of two lithium electrodes in an electrolyte, or liquid conductor. What differentiates it from similar batteries is that the electrodes are separated by a flexible ceramic membrane that provides greater thermal stability the company said.

A drawback of lithium-ion batteries is a risk of explosion if they overheat. According to Felix von Borck, director of the Akasol research center in western Darmstadt, the Separion goes a long way towards resolving that problem.

Li-Tec has joined a consortium that includes Bosch, chemical giant BASF and German car maker Volkswagen to develop the product, which has existed for two years. "This is just the technology," von Borck said in reference to current models. "Now someone must be found to produce them" on an industrial scale. Given past problems, many industrialists remain skeptical, while others are developing competing energy sources of their own like hydrogen fuel cells. "BMW developed projects in the 1990s," a spokesman for the Bavarian car maker said, but concluded they were too complex to bring to the market. "Today there has certainly been progress," he nonetheless added."We think the first series of electric cars could arrive within five to 10 years. But it's a niche market for small city cars. At any rate not 'the' solution for questions of mobility."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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