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Predicting Instead Of Researching

Instead of researching a better battery material, scientists at the, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, can predict what will provide improved performance. The computer model represents a new approach to materials science, says researcher Gerbrand Ceder. The technique was used to find an economical alternative for a rechargeable lithium battery. "Our dream as a team is to make a battery that will enable the dawn of the electric-vehicle age," notes researcher Donald R. Sadoway.

The computer model suggested aluminum as an inexpensive alternative for the more expensive cobalt used in the batteries. The effort led the scientists to a mixture of lithium aluminum oxide and lithium cobalt that increased cell voltage. The new cathode was demonstrated with a new, solid -- yet flexible -- electrolyte developed by MIT researcher Anne M. Mayes. A battery made of the material would have a consistency similar to a potato-chip bag. The potential uses are numerous. "Imagine a car powered by a battery that's incorporated into the body panels," says Sadoway.

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