IBM researcher Sally Swanson is climbing what she calls the Mt. Everest of energy. She's working on IBM's Battery 500 Project.
The goal is to build a car battery that will go 500 miles before needing a recharge. Swanson says the battery would revolutionize the all-electric vehicle market and do away with many people's recharge anxiety.
"We can go, 'Oh, thank goodness, I can get back home, if I have to, I can get to my son's house in L.A.' Whatever," says Swanson.
Right now, Tesla's pricey Roadster is the only all-electric vehicle in production. Its lithium ion battery has a range of about 200 miles. IBM's Girish Gopalakrishnan says pound for pound a lithium air battery could be seven times more efficient. The trick is to make use of something light and easily available -- air.
"During the discharge of the battery, you have lithium ions going in and reacting with air in the atmosphere to form a product and then release external energy, which could be used to drive your car or any other devise," says Gopalakrishnan.
The benefits of metal-air batteries have been known for decades. They power million of small devises like hearing aids, but the challenge has been making them bigger and rechargeable.
IBM has set aside another two years to test the science behind its Battery 500 Project. Swanson says the recent oil disaster in the gulf just reaffirms the urgency of their work.
"Hopefully, we will get this to be the equivalent to gasoline and do away with the need for so much gas in the country," says Swanson.
The IBM Research labs may not resemble Mt. Everest, but the journey could result in a powerful view. The Battery 500 Project is in its first year of research. IBM hopes to have a laboratory sized prototype by 2012, but says an actual electric vehicle sized demo battery could be 10 to 15 years away.