Energy

Lithium-oxygen breakthrough clears the air for boosted batteries

The formation of the lithium superoxide is the result of the spacing of iridium nanoparticles in the battery's electrode
The formation of the lithium superoxide is the result of the spacing of iridium nanoparticles in the battery's electrode
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The formation of the lithium superoxide is the result of the spacing of iridium nanoparticles in the battery's electrode
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The formation of the lithium superoxide is the result of the spacing of iridium nanoparticles in the battery's electrode

Boasting an energy density similar to that of gasoline, lithium-air (or lithium-oxygen) batteries may one day prove the panacea for the range-anxiety associated with electric vehicles. But first there are a number of challenges that need to be overcome, one of which is the unwanted buildup of lithium peroxide on the electrode which hampers this type of battery's performance. Scientists have now figured out a way that this mess might be avoided – an advance they say could lead to batteries with five times the energy density of those currently available.

By doing away with clunky internal oxidizers and instead drawing on oxygen from the air to power its chemical reaction, lithium-air batteries could feature energy densities with many times that of current lithium-ion batteries.

But an undesirable byproduct of this chemical reaction is the formation of lithium peroxide, which obstructs the electrode's conducting surface. One potential way to overcome this is to alter the electrode and chemical makeup of the electrolyte so that it produces lithium hydroxide instead, as demonstrated by scientists at the University of Cambridge late last year.

But by focusing purely on the electrode, a team at the Argonne National Laboratory has worked out how such a battery could be made to produce lithium superoxide during discharge, rather than lithium peroxide. It says that the lithium superoxide is more easily broken down, dissociating into lithium and oxygen to allow for higher efficiency and an improved life cycle. It could also enable "closed system" lithium-air batteries, which wouldn't require intake of extra oxygen from the environment and would make them safer and more efficient.

"The stabilization of the superoxide phase could lead to developing a new closed battery system based on lithium superoxide, which has the potential of offering truly five times the energy density of lithium ion," says Khalil Amine, a member of the research team.

The formation of the lithium superoxide is attributed to the spacing of iridium nanoparticles in the electrode. While lithium superoxide has traditionally been hard to synthesize due to its thermodynamic instability, the researchers say the iridium atoms look to be a good recipe for its growth moving forward.

"This discovery really opens a pathway for the potential development of a new kind of battery," says Larry Curtiss, a battery scientist at Argonne. "Although a lot more research is needed, the cycle life of the battery is what we were looking for."

The research was published in the journal Nature.

Source: Argonne National Laboratory

13 comments
Skipjack
This where the emphasis should be on, I am afraid: "Although a lot more research is needed, the cycle life of the battery is what we were looking for." There have been so many promising developments in battery tech that somehow never made it to the market.
HensleyBeuronGarlington
Lets hope they nail it. We badly need new battery advancements. 5x the storage capacity of current tech!? Can you imagine a Tesla jumping from 320 miles on a charge to about 1600 miles on a charge with batteries about the same weight and size?! And electric motors and other equipment are always getting more efficient. This is so exciting.
Stephen N Russell
Once proven, mass produce, needed for PCs, phones, tablets, etc alone.
Peter Kelly
May be, could be, should be... Perhaps a report on what they have actually done, rather than supposed, would make us a little more optimistic.
jerryd
What I don't understand is we can have these batteries today if they would get over trying to recharge them. Ones that can be swapped at 50lbs gives about 1,000 mile EV range or power a home for a week to month. Just make them so they can be recycled cheaply using excess grid or dedicated clean power would easily be cheaper than gasoline..
TJG
@jerryd One problem with non-rechargeables is that there is no way to store the electricity from regenerative breaking and other energy reclamation technologies. This tech can boost range beyond what the current best energy storage is capable of alone. Another problem, regardless of recharge-ability, is energy density. Storing that much energy in a small volume, increases the chance of an internal failure that can be catastrophic. Even if the technology exists to safely contain the potential, there will always be someone making cheap batteries that are unsafe. Think if the Swagway, but with 5x the potential energy. I believe that better storage technology is necessary to create an infrastructure that make renewables a viable alternative. But it needs to be safe too.
mookins
Spacing of iridium nanoparticles: a previously unknown way of making Superoxide... and it frees the battery from carrying 'clunky internal oxidizers' just like using Hydroxide does. Sounds like better and better. I wonder if the other challenges are as yielding as this one.
PedroNuno
I don't understand why developers aim for more mileage. Its recharging time they should take upon on. Tesla does 320 miles on one charge. How many miles can you do with a full tank of fuel?. If they mange to recharge batteries at about the same time a fuel tank takes to fill, its bye bye fossil fuels. Im not saying more mileage isn't good but the major problem is recharge time.
DaveWesely
JerryD is on the right track, but needs to think a little further. Recharging time for batteries is a problem - too long and people can't get back on the road, too short and the electrical infrastructure demands are too high at the charging station. The solution is the ability to replace your batteries at the charging station, not recharge them in place. Having a standardized battery with usage metrics built in would allow for trade-in valuations. This would also allow for different battery types for different consumer needs (long life disposable, short life rechargable, ect.) and create a much more flexible market for battery advances.
physics314
Iridium is the second rarest naturally occurring element on Earth, so I'd be a little skeptical about this tech making it to mass production. Pedro is correct: charging time is a big issue. Thing is, nothing reasonable can be done about that. To charge a Tesla-sized battery in a few minutes, the charging power needs to be in the several MW range. Even for very efficient batteries (98%), a 5MW charging power would cause 100kW of heat dissipation, which would melt any battery (and the car seats), without a large integrated cooling system.
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