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Toyota hydrogen research leads to a better battery

A Toyota scientist developing hydrogen storage technology stumbles on a discovery that could make for more energy dense batteries.

Toyota magnesium battery

Toyota's graphic shows how magnesium would be used as the anode in a new, energy dense battery.


When Toyota launched its Mirai fuel cell car, it seemed to abandon the idea of a pure battery electric vehicle in favor of hydrogen power. But, Rana Mohtadi, a scientist working on hydrogen storage at the Toyota Research Institute of North America (TRINA), found that technology she was developing could be applied to an innovative magnesium battery.

Toyota points out in a press release that using magnesium instead of a lithium ion material for a battery's anode could lead to greater energy density. Improved electricity storage in batteries would make electric cars run longer and go even faster, and also could be used in other electronic devices, such as smartphones.

Magnesium has been used in batteries over the last century, most prominently in commercial magnesium air fuel cells used as back-up power sources for industrial applications. Although researchers have recognized magnesium as a superior anode material for batteries, a suitable electrolyte that could convey ions between anode and cathode had not been found.

While talking with battery researchers at TRINA, Mohtadi realized that a material she had been developing for hydrogen storage could be used as an electrolyte for a magnesium battery. Mohtadi and fellow scientists published the research in the Angewandte Chemie journal.

Announcements of breakthroughs in battery technology come with a fair degree of frequency. In the last couple of years, researchers touted everything from simple carbon to a titanium dioxide gel to improve charging speed and energy density. Toyota cautions in its own press release that its magnesium technology would take 20 years to commercialize.

However, the massive increase in portable electronics and growing need for electric cars around the world have put battery research in greater demand, so that overall improvement in the technology is a certainty.