Honda Claims Breakthrough in New Battery Tech That Offers Longer Range, Greener Operation

Experimental fluoride-ion battery chemistry could serve as a suitable replacement to the current, relatively inefficient lithium-ion units.

Honda—Getty Images/blue jean images RF

As automakers commit to building more electric cars, the search for better batteries is ongoing. Honda claims to have made a major breakthrough in that area. Working with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Japanese automaker claims to have developed a new battery chemistry called fluoride-ion that could outperform current lithium-ion batteries, with a less-severe environmental impact.

The fluoride-ion battery chemistry, detailed in a paper published in Science, aims to solve some of the biggest problems with today's lithium-ion batteries. Honda claims fluoride-ion batteries offer 10 times greater energy density, meaning they can store more electricity in a given volume. That equates to greater range for an electric car without making the battery pack bigger. The batteries also don't pose a safety risk from overheating and don't require rare metals like lithium and cobalt, according to Honda.

The low atomic weight of fluorine, the main ingredient in this type of battery chemistry, makes fluoride-ion batteries' increased performance possible, says the automaker. The material's potential benefits were previously known, but there was a major drawback: batteries needed temperatures of around 150 degrees Celsius (302 degrees Fahrenheit) to work.

But Honda claims to have found a way to make these batteries operate at room temperature. That's thanks to a new fluoride electrolyte (the material that conducts electricity within a battery) developed by researchers. Honda says researchers have successfully tested this in the lab, but that doesn't necessarily mean the technology can be commercialized. Promising lab results don't always work in the real world.

It's also unclear what Honda would do with the technology in the United States. In a press release, Honda said fluoride-ion batteries could power future electric cars (or be used for energy storage), but the automaker hasn't shown much interest in cars powered by batteries for this market. With its short range, the current Clarity Electric feels like an afterthought. 

Honda plans to launch a production version of the well-received Urban EV concept for Europe, and new sub-brand focused on electric cars for China, but its U.S. plans seem to focus more on hybrids and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

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