Energy

Soft, solid battery electrolyte could see EVs go great distances

Soft, solid battery electrolyt...
A new electrolyte design could lead to batteries for electric cars and other vehicles that offer much greater capacity
A new electrolyte design could lead to batteries for electric cars and other vehicles that offer much greater capacity
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A new electrolyte design could lead to batteries for electric cars and other vehicles that offer much greater capacity
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A new electrolyte design could lead to batteries for electric cars and other vehicles that offer much greater capacity
X-ray images of the anode show a smooth surface of lithium
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X-ray images of the anode show a smooth surface of lithium

Lithium metal batteries, in which the graphite material in the anode is swapped out for pure lithium metal, could be a game changer when it comes to energy storage, potentially offering far greater capacity and an ability to charge much faster. Scientists are reporting a new breakthrough in this area, demonstrating how an electrolyte made of soft and solid materials can prevent the formation of tree-like growths that normally prove fatal to the battery’s performance.

The reason lithium metal batteries are seen as such a promising technology in energy research circles is that pure lithium metal offers excellent energy density. This means they could offer as much as 10 times the capacity of today’s batteries, and possibly charge in just a fraction of the time.

One of the major roadblocks standing in the way, however, are troublesome, tentacle-like protrusions called dendrites. These form on the surface of the graphite anode as the battery charges and ultimately cause it to short-circuit, fail or catch fire. A lot of the focus in battery research centers on suppressing these growths, and we’ve seen a few promising solutions of late.

These have included incorporating protective layers into the anode to prevent dendrite growth, using scaffolds made of carbon nanotubes for the same effect, and even bringing adhesive tape into the mix.

The team behind the latest breakthrough, made up of scientists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Carnegie Mellon University, see the solution in a new class of soft, solid electrolytes. The electrolyte is the material that facilitates the movement of ions back and forth between the cathode and anode, and the team believes it may have come up with just the right recipe for use in lithium metal batteries.

The material consists of soft, porous polymers, with the tiny holes packed with nanoscale ceramic particles. This combination of soft and solid materials was put to the test in the lab, with the team using X-ray imaging to observe the interactions between lithium metal anode and electrolyte during up to 16 hours of operation.

X-ray images of the anode show a smooth surface of lithium
X-ray images of the anode show a smooth surface of lithium

This testing showed that the lithium remained smooth throughout, while another around of experiments, in which the so-called PIM composite electrolyte material wasn’t used, brought about “telltale signs” of early dendrite growth. The researchers believe the properties of the new dendrite-suppressing electrolyte lend themselves well to a range of applications, including high-density batteries for electric cars, trucks and eVTOL aircraft.

“Our dendrite-suppressing technology has exciting implications for the battery industry,” said co-author Brett Helms, a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry. “With it, battery manufacturers can produce safer lithium metal batteries with both high energy density and a long cycle life.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Materials.

Source: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

12 comments
Catweazle
Here we go again...barely a day goes by that I don't read of a breakthrough in lithium battery design. Problem is, all these breakthroughs are incremental at best, what we need to approach the energy density of a tank of gas is orders of magnitude.
Aross
This would be great if this technology would translate into lighter, less costly and higher capacity batteries for the home solar market.
Signguy
Yup, more "discoveries" yet none come to market; not enough profit?
Hippo
Discovery in a university doesn't equal a production product. Every day there are breakthroughs but unless there is a way to scale production many never will be produced. There have been companies promising variants of solid or mixed state batteries for over a decade now. The problem has been finding a way to mass manufacture them.
Duke Harris
What about the so called glass electrolytes I heard about a while back (found by Goodenough)
guzmanchinky
The naysayers crack me up. Batteries are already orders of magnitude better and cheaper than even 10 years ago. Soon they will rival energy density of gasoline and charge in 5 minutes. Bye bye oil...
Sciencie
If you are only interested in whats coming to market you are reading the wrong blog. You could try Ebay
If you are interested in whats being worked on (Like me) then stay with New Atlas.
Paul Villella
2 comments below equate battery to gas or gas tank, that isn't relevant. Electric motors paired with batteries are more efficient so there is no need to contain the energy density of petrol. Ice engine produces far more heat as an output and just around 25% motive power for a good efficient ice. More like 80% battery energy to motive power for ev
vince
Catweazle. this is an order of magnitude greater up to 10 times is ONE order of magnitude. If you multiplied a range of 300 miles for a typical EV today by this you would get a range of 3,000 miles. End of ICE domination in that case totally. And an airplane that goes 80 to 100 miles on current batteries goes 800 to 1000 mile sand that's all you need for 85% of continental flights.
Ross Baker
I don't believe this can increase capacity by a factor of ten. A battery has both an anode and a cathode. Reducing one of them by a factor of infinity will only reduce the size of the battery by a factor of roughly 2 (assuming they are roughly equal in size to start. Still a doubling IS possible and welcome.