BatteryLithium-ion batteries power a vast majority of the world’s portable electronics, from smartphones to laptops. A standard lithium-ion batteries utilizes a liquid as the electrolyte between two electrodes. However, the liquid electrolyte has the potential to lead to safety hazards. Researchers from MIT believe that by using a solid electrolyte, lithium-ion batteries could be safer and able to store more energy. However, most research in the area of all-solid-state lithium-ion batteries has faced significant barriers.

According to the team from MIT, a reason why research into solid electrolytes has been so challenging is due to incorrect interpretation of how these batteries fail.

This from MIT:

The problem, according to this study, is that researchers have been focusing on the wrong properties in their search for a solid electrolyte material. The prevailing idea was that the material’s firmness or squishiness (a property called shear modulus) determined whether dendrites could penetrate into the electrolyte. But the new analysis showed that it’s the smoothness of the surface that matters most. Microscopic nicks and scratches on the electrolyte’s surface can provide a toehold for the metallic deposits to begin to force their way in, the researchers found.

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EnergyIn an effort to expand South Australia’s renewable energy supply, the state has looked to business magnate Elon Musk to build the world’s largest lithium-ion battery. The goal of the project is to deliver a grid-scale battery with the ability to stabilize intermittency issues in the area as well as reduce energy prices.

An energy grid is the central component of energy generation and usage. By changing the type of energy that powers that grid in moving from fossil fuels toward more renewable sources, the grid itself changes. Traditional electrical grids demand consistency, using fossil fuels to control production for demand. However, renewable sources such as wind and solar provide intermittency issues that traditional fossil fuels do not. Researchers must look at how we can deliver energy to the electrical grid when the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing. This is where energy storage systems, such as batteries, play a pivotal role.

In South Australia, Musk’s battery is intended to sustain 100 megawatts of power and store that energy for 129 megawatt hours. To put it in perspective, that is enough energy to power 30,000 homes and, according to Musk, will be three times as powerful as the world’s current largest lithium-ion battery.

Musk hopes to complete the project by December, stating that “It’s a fundamental efficiency improvement to the power grid, and it’s really quite necessary and quite obvious considering a renewable energy future.”

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Ultra-low Temperature Batteries

BatteryA new development in electrolyte chemistry, led by ECS member Shirley Meng, is expanding lithium-ion battery performance, allowing devices to operate at temperatures as low as -60° Celsius.

Currently, lithium-ion batteries stop operating around -20° Celsius. By developing an electrolyte that allows the battery to operate at a high efficiency at a much colder temperature, researchers believe it could allow electric vehicles in cold climates to travel further on a single charge. Additionally, the technology could allow battery-powered devices, such as WiFi drones, to function in extreme cold conditions.

(MORE: Read ECS’s interview with Meng, “The Future of Batteries.”)

This from UC San Diego:

The new electrolytes also enable electrochemical capacitors to run as low as -80 degrees Celsius — their current low temperature limit is -40 degrees Celsius. While the technology enables extreme low temperature operation, high performance at room temperature is still maintained. The new electrolyte chemistry could also increase the energy density and improve the safety of lithium batteries and electrochemical capacitors.

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BatteryIn an effort to increase security on airplanes, the U.S. government is considering expanding a ban on lithium-ion based devices from cabins of commercial flights, opting instead for passengers to transport laptops and other electronic devices in their checked luggage in the cargo department. However, statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration suggest that storing those devices in the cargo area could increase the risk of fires.

The FAA reports that batteries were responsible for nine airline fires in 2014. The number grew to 16 in 2015 and further to 31 in 2016. Most fires were able to be extinguished by passengers.
According to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, the U.S. government is considering expanding the ban to 71 additional airports.

(READ: “What’s Next for Batteries?” with Robert Kostecki.)

Mainstream concern regarding lithium-ion battery safety became widespread in 2016 when videos of hoverboards exploding began to emerge. Since then, news reports of smartphone and laptop batteries have emerged.

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CellphoneThe development of the lithium-ion battery has helped enable the modern day electronics revolution, making possible everything from cellphones to laptops to electric vehicles and even grid-scale energy storage.

However, those batteries have limited lifespans. Battery expert Daniel P. Abraham is looking to address that.

“As your cellphone battery ages, you notice that you have to plug it in more often,” says Abraham, ECS member and scientist at Argonne National Laboratory. “Over a period of time, you are not able to store as much charge in the battery, and that is the process we call capacity fade.”

Abraham is a co-author of an open access paper recently published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society, “Transition Metal Dissolution, Ion Migration, Electrocatalytic Reduction and Capacity Loss in Lithium-Ion Full Cells,” which addresses the question of why your battery doesn’t age well.

A majority of today’s electronic devices are powered by the lithium-ion battery. In order for the battery to store and release energy, lithium ions move back and forth between the positive and negative electrodes through an electrolyte.  In theory, the ions could travel back and forth an infinite number of times, resulting in a battery that lasts forever.

But that’s not what happens in the batteries that power your laptops and your electric vehicles. According to Abraham, unwanted side reactions often occur as ions move between the electrodes, resulting in batteries that lose capacity over time.

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Lithium-ionLithium-ion batteries power a vast majority of the world’s portable electronics, but the magnification of recent safety incidents have some looking for new ways to keep battery-related hazards at bay. The U.S. Navy is one of those groups, with chemists in the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) unveiling a new battery, which they say is both safe and rechargeable for applications such as electric vehicles and ships.

“We keep having too many catastrophic news stories of lithium-ion batteries smoking, catching fire, exploding,” says Debra Rolison, head of NRL’s advanced electrochemical materials section and co-author of the recently published paper. “There’ve been military platforms that have suffered severe damage because of lithium-ion battery fires.”

Once example of such damage came in 2008, when an explosion and fire caused by a lithium-ion battery damaged the Advanced SEAL Delivery Vehicle 1 at its base in Pearl Harbor.

While generally safe when manufactured properly, lithium-ion batteries host an organic liquid which is flammable if the battery or device gets too hot.

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BatteryLike all things, batteries have a finite lifespan. As batteries get older and efficiency decreases, they enter what researchers call “capacity fade,” which occurs when the amount of charge your battery could once hold begins to decrease with repeated use.

But what if researchers could reduce this capacity fade?

That’s what researchers from Argonne National Laboratory are aiming to do, as demonstrated in their open access paper, “Transition Metal Dissolution, Ion Migration, Electrocatalytic Reduction and Capacity Loss in Lithium-Ion Full Cells,” which was recently published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society.

The capacity of a lithium-ion battery directly correlates to the amount of lithium ions that can be shuttled back and forth as the device is charged and discharged. Transition metal ions make this shuttling possible, but as the battery is cycled, some of those ions get stripped out of the cathode material and end up at the battery’s anode.

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BatteryResearchers from Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science recently developed a method that could result in safer, longer-lasting, bendable lithium-ion batteries. To do this, the team applied ice-templating to control the structure of the solid electrolyte for lithium-ion batteries.

Recent reports of cell phones and hoverboards bursting into flames have made people aware of the safety concerns related to the lithium-ion battery’s liquid electrolyte. The researchers behind this new work decided to confront the safety issues by exploring the use of a solid electrolyte, therefore developing an all-solid-state lithium battery.

[The researchers] were interested in using ice-templating to fabricate vertically aligned structures of ceramic solid electrolytes, which provide fast lithium ion pathways and are highly conductive. They cooled the aqueous solution with ceramic particles from the bottom and then let ice grow and push away and concentrate the ceramic particles. They then applied a vacuum to transition the solid ice to a gas, leaving a vertically aligned structure. Finally, they combined this ceramic structure with polymer to provide mechanical support and flexibility to the electrolyte.

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BatteryA team of scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory is using the precision of an electron beam to instantly adhere cathode coatings for lithium-ion batteries. This new development, as reported in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society, could lead to a leap in efficiency that saves energy, reduces production cost, and eliminates the use of toxic solvents.

This from ORNL:

The technique uses an electron beam to cure coating material as it rolls down the production line, creating instantaneous cross-links between molecules that bind the coating to a foil substrate, without the need for solvents, in less than a second.

Read the full article.

“Typical curing processes can require drying machinery the length of a football field and expensive equipment for solvent recovery,” says David Wood, co-author of the study. “This approach presents a promising avenue for fast, energy-efficient manufacturing of high-performance, low-cost lithium-ion batteries.”

Read the full paper, “Electron Beam Curing of Composite Positive Electrode for Li-Ion Battery.”

BatteryJoint research from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid and the Council for Scientific Research reports the development of a new ceramic electrode for lithium-ion batteries that can lead to cheaper, more efficient, and safer conventional batteries.

“What we have patented are new ceramic electrodes that are much safer and can work in a wider temperature interval,” says Alejandro Varez, co-author of the research.

To achieve this result, the researchers made ceramic sheets by way of thermoplastic extrusion molds.

“This technique allows making electrodes that are flat or tube-shaped, and these electrodes can be applied to any type of lithium-ion battery,” Varez says.

According to the researchers, the cost of production is low and it could easily be adapted into current lithium-ion battery production, making this an easy technology to move quickly to industrialization.

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