Salts that exist in a liquid state at room temperature could soon change the cars we drive, improve our renewable energy sources and help wean industrial chemistry off petroleum.Hybrid vehicles constitute a significant part of the automotive market. But safety concerns about the technology that powers these cars – their batteries are more likely than standard ones to ignite – is a major hindrance to reducing the carbon emissions of road transport. For Douglas MacFarlane, Professor of Chemistry at Monash University, the tendency of such car batteries to explode if damaged is a practical problem that he believes can be remedied by harnessing a remarkable conductive material that is much more stable. Ionic liquids, consisting of salts that have a low melting point, can be turned to diverse applications through the manipulation of their positive and negative molecules and atoms, components known as ions. Thanks to an Australian Laureate Fellowship from the Australian Research Council (ARC), over the next five years he will continue an ambitious research program of refining these ionic liquids, leading about 30 research chemists and materials engineers.
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