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Toyota’s new breakthrough in observing lithium ion deviation can potentially improve the range and battery life of electric vehicles by 15%, according to Automotive News. The company developed a world-first method to monitor this behaviour, one of the causes of performance deviation in batteries, in real time.

“The lithium-ion battery is a key technology for electrifying cars, and there is a clear need, going forward, for improving this technology and its performance even more,” said Toyota battery technology researcher Hisao Yamashige.

With methods developed by Toyota Central R&D Labs in collaboration with Nippon Soken and four universities in Japan, Toyota’s engineers are now better able to see in real time how lithium ions moved within electrodes.

It is believed that lithium ion deviation, which occurs in electrodes and the electrolyte as a result of charging and discharging, limits the usage area of batteries and reduces the area in which the battery’s maximum performance can be achieved. However, confirming the behaviour of these ions under the same environment and conditions as when they are being used in related products was not possible using existing methods.

Toyota’s method uses a specially developed beamline in the SPring-8 synchrotron radiation facility – which generates the world’s highest-performance synchrotron radiation – to produce high-intensity X-rays around one billion times more powerful than those generated by commercial X-ray equipment.

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As such, the system is capable of producing high-definition images of 0.65 micron per pixel and high-speed measurements of 100 milliseconds per frame. Meanwhile, the usual phosphorus-containing electrolyte is replaced with one with heavy metals, which transmit less X-rays and show up darker in images – enabling researchers to better observe deviation behaviour of lithium ions which bind with them in the electrolyte.

Toyota will use the method to observe the behaviour of ions caused by differences in the materials and structures of cathodes, anodes, separators and electrolytes, as well as differences in battery control. This analysis is set to lead to research and development meant to help improve the performance and durability of batteries.

This development in observations should lead to new designs which help prevent lithium ions from clumping together and moving unevenly inside electrodes, disrupting ion flow and thus limiting range and battery life. The improvements in battery technology which result from this could aid in gaining wider acceptance of EVs, as the increased range should alleviate concerns such as range anxiety.

For a long time, Toyota has foregone pure EVs in favour of petrol-electric hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for its long-term vision, though that stance saw an about-turn last month when the Japanese automaker was reportedly planning the mass production of long range EVs around 2020.

Toyota has also set up a small, fast-track venture company for the development of EVs, in order to allow unconventional work processes for quicker project progress and thus, faster-to-market products. A virtual organisation consisting of four persons, one each from Toyota Industries Corp, Aisin Seiki Co Ltd, Denso Corp and TMC, will be independent of internal organisations.