As explained recently in the journal Science, a new longer-range battery may be become available for cars, airplanes, trucks. Many owners of electric cars already wish for a battery pack that can power their vehicle for more than a thousand miles on a single charge. Researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology and Argonne National Laboratory have developed a lithium-air battery that could make that dream a reality. The team’s new battery design could also one day power domestic airplanes and long-haul trucks.
The main new component in this lithium-air battery is a solid electrolyte instead of the usual liquid variety. Batteries with solid electrolytes are not subject to the same safety issues as those with liquid electrolytes used in lithium-ion and other battery types, which often overheat and catch fire. More importantly, the team’s battery chemistry with solid electrolyte can potentially boost the energy density by as much as four times versus today’s batteries, which translates into longer driving range.
For over a decade, scientists at Argonne and elsewhere have been working overtime to develop a lithium battery that makes use of the oxygen in air. The lithium-air battery has the highest projected energy density of any battery technology being considered for the next generation of batteries beyond lithium-ion. The new solid electrolyte is composed of a ceramic polymer material made from relatively inexpensive elements in nanoparticle form. This new solid enables chemical reactions that produce lithium oxide on discharge.
The team’s revolutionary lithium-air design is the first lithium-air battery that has achieved a four-electron reaction at room temperature. It also operates with oxygen supplied by air from the surrounding environment. The capability to run with air avoids the need for oxygen tanks to operate, a problem with earlier designs. Previous lithium-air test cell designs suffered from very short cycle-lives.
Fortunately, the team established that this shortcoming is not the case for their new battery design. They built and operated a test cell for 1000 cycles, demonstrating its stability over repeated charge and discharge. With further development, they expect this new design for the lithium-air battery to achieve a record energy density of 1200 watthours per kilogram. That is nearly four times better than lithium-ion batteries.