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by Tim Beissmann

US-based technology company IBM is developing a new type of battery that could give the next generation of electric cars a range of 800km.

The battery is based on lithium-air cell technology, which uses carbon electrodes rather than heavier metal ones in conventional batteries to react with oxygen and create electrical current.

The concept itself is not new, but IBM believes it has made a breakthrough that counters the biggest problem with lithium-air cells, which is their short lifespan.

California-based IBM physicist Winifried Wilcke told New Scientist magazine the key was developing an electrolyte that did not deplete when coming into contact with oxygen. He says the research team, which is supported by four US national labs and a number of commercial partners, has already created research prototypes of the battery and plans to have a full-size prototype ready for 2013.

Most of today’s electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries, and the majority have a maximum range of 160km. With an estimated range five times greater than modern day EVs, vehicles powered by lithium-air batteries would be competitive with conventional petrol-powered vehicles. There is no word on how long a recharge would take.

IBM says the technology could be commercially available by 2020.