Winfried W. Wilcke
Senior Manager of Nanoscale Science and Technology, IBM, San Jose
Wilcke, 61, uses nanoscience to boost the storage capacity of electric-car batteries while keeping them lightweight—a perpetual struggle when designing cars without gasoline.
"There's a trade-off with electric cars: You can either have small batteries and spend a lot of money to build charging stations, or you can build a big battery to get away with the infrastructure you have. We're working on lithium-air batteries that would be big enough to hold energy content comparable to a gas tank's. With a battery that big, you wouldn't need to build a major infrastructure. Lithium-air batteries are good for things that need a lot of energy but don't go through it very quickly. So if they're going to work for cars, they would probably need to be combined with small lithium-ion batteries that can provide quick power during acceleration spurts. I haven't the foggiest idea of how expensive these batteries will be. And that's, of course, as important as the energy density."
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A version of this article appeared in the September 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.