Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a lithium-oxygen battery that offers the light weight of lithium-air without its drawbacks.
Lithium-oxygen batteries have long been considered promising for the future of electric vehicles and portable devices thanks to their potential to deliver a high energy output in proportion to their weight.
However, the technology also has a number of well-reported drawbacks, including that the batteries degrade rapidly and waste around 30 per cent of their energy input as heat.
MIT claimed to have the answer and has devised a battery concept that it said can overcome these obstacles.
The new technology uses what's known as a nanolithia cathode battery. Current lithium-oxygen batteries work by drawing in air which causes a chemical reaction, but MIT's concept recharges without letting oxygen become a gas.
"Instead, the oxygen stays inside the solid and transforms directly between its three redox states, while bound in the form of three different solid chemical compounds, Li2O, Li2O2, and LiO2, which are mixed together in the form of a glass," the team wrote in a research paper led by Ju Li, professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Battelle Energy Alliance and MIT, along with Zhi Zhu and five researchers from MIT, Argonne National Laboratory and Peking University.
"This reduces the voltage loss by a factor of five, from 1.2v to 0.24v, so only eight per cent of the electrical energy is turned to heat."
In laymen's terms, this paves the way for faster charging and more efficient lithium-oxygen batteries owing to lower heat waste. MIT also said that the new battery is "inherently protected from overcharging", which means it's unlikely to suffer irreversible damage or explode.
"We have overcharged the battery for 15 days to 100 times its capacity, but there was no damage at all," Li said.
Xiulei Ji, an assistant professor of chemistry at Oregon State University, added: "This is a foundational breakthrough which may shift the paradigm of oxygen-based batteries.
"In this system, commercial carbonate-based electrolyte works very well with solvated superoxide shuttles, which is quite impressive and may have to do with the lack of any gaseous O2 in this sealed system.
"All active masses of the cathode throughout cycling are solid, which presents not only large energy density but compatibility with the current battery manufacturing infrastructure.”
The team is looking to produce a prototype within a year and to make the technology available to manufacturers in the next 18 months.
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