BatteryCapitalizing on tiny defects can improve electrodes for lithium-ion batteries, new research suggests.

In a study on lithium transport in battery cathodes, researchers found that a common cathode material for lithium-ion batteries, olivine lithium iron phosphate, releases or takes in lithium ions through a much larger surface area than previously thought.

“We know this material works very well but there’s still much debate about why,” says Ming Tang, an assistant professor of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice University. “In many aspects, this material isn’t supposed to be so good, but somehow it exceeds people’s expectations.”

Part of the reason, Tang says, comes from point defects—atoms misplaced in the crystal lattice—known as antisite defects. Such defects are impossible to completely eliminate in the fabrication process. As it turns out, he says, they make real-world electrode materials behave very differently from perfect crystals.

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BatteryA new sodium-based battery can store the same amount of energy as a state-of-the-art lithium ion at a substantially lower cost.

As a warming world moves from fossil fuels toward renewable solar and wind energy, industrial forecasts predict an insatiable need for battery farms to store power and provide electricity.

Chemical engineer Zhenan Bao and materials scientists Yi Cui and William Chueh of Stanford University aren’t the first researchers to design a sodium ion battery. But they believe their approach has the price and performance characteristics to create a sodium ion battery that costs less than 80 percent of a lithium ion battery with the same storage capacity.

$150 a ton

“Nothing may ever surpass lithium in performance,” Bao says. “But lithium is so rare and costly that we need to develop high-performance but low-cost batteries based on abundant elements like sodium.”

With materials constituting about one-quarter of a battery’s price, the cost of lithium—about $15,000 a ton to mine and refine—looms large. Researchers say that’s why they are basing the new battery on widely available sodium-based electrode material that costs just $150 a ton.

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Lithium-ionResearchers have found a new method for finding lithium, used in the lithium-ion batteries that power modern electronics, in supervolcanic lake deposits.

While most of the lithium used to make batteries comes from Australia and Chile, but scientists say there are large deposits in sources right here in America: supervolcanoes.

In a recently published study, scientists detail a new method for locating lithium in supervolcanic lake deposits.

The findings represent an important step toward diversifying the supply of this valuable silvery-white metal, since lithium is an energy-critical strategic resource, says study coauthor Gail Mahood, a professor of geological sciences at Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

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25 Years of Lithium-ion Batteries

Focus IssuesIn June 2016, the International Meeting on Lithium Batteries (IMLB) in Chicago successfully celebrated 25 years of the commercialization of lithium-ion batteries. According to Doron Aurbach, technical editor of the Batteries and Energy Storage topical interest area of the Journal of The Electrochemical Society, research efforts in the Li-battery community continues to provide ground-breaking technological success in electromobility and grid storage applications. He hopes this research will continue to revolutionize mobile energy supply for future advances in ground transportation.

ECS has published 66 papers for a new IMLB focus issue in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society. All papers are open access at no charge to the authors and no charge to download thanks to ECS’s Free the Science initiative!

(READ: Focus Issue of Selected Papers from IMLB 2016 with Invited Papers Celebrating 25 Years of Lithium Ion Batteries)

The focus issue provides important information on the forefront of advanced battery research that appropriately reflects the findings from the symposium.

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BatteryMost of today’s batteries are made up of two solid layers, separated by a liquid or gel electrolyte. But some researchers are beginning to move away from that traditional battery in favor of an all-solid-state battery, which some researchers believe could enhance battery energy density and safety. While there are many barriers to overcome when pursing a feasible all-solid-state battery, researchers from MIT believe they are headed in the right direction.

This from MIT:

For the first time, a team at MIT has probed the mechanical properties of a sulfide-based solid electrolyte material, to determine its mechanical performance when incorporated into batteries.

Read the full article.

“Batteries with components that are all solid are attractive options for performance and safety, but several challenges remain,” says Van Vliet, co-author of the paper. “[Today’s batteries are very efficient, but] the liquid electrolytes tend to be chemically unstable, and can even be flammable. So if the electrolyte was solid, it could be safer, as well as smaller and lighter.”

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SmartphoneRecent safety concerns with lithium-ion batteries exploding in devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone and hoverboards have many energy researchers looking into this phenomenon for a better understanding of how batteries function when stressed.

A new open access paper published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society provides some insight into these safety hazards associated with the Li-ion battery by taking a look inside the battery as it is overworked and overcharged.

Overcharging or overheating Li-ion batteries causes the materials inside to breakdown and produce bubbles of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases. As more of these gases are produced, they begin to buildup and cause the battery to swell. That swelling can lead to explosion.

“The battery can either pillow a small amount and keep operating, pillow a lot and cease operation, or keep generating gas and rupture the cell, which can be accompanied by an explosion or fire,” Toby Bond, co-author of the paper, told New Scientist.

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Lithium-ion

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has recently been in the headlines for safety concerns pertaining to its lithium-ion battery. Now, a lawsuit filed in California claims that the issues extend beyond the Note 7, and that many other generations of Samsung smartphones “pose a risk of overheating, fire, and explosion.”

While Samsung claims that the Li-ion safety issues are isolated to only the Note 7, researchers in the field of energy storage are still looking for a way to develop an efficient, non-combustible battery. CBS recently stopped by the University of Maryland to discuss just that with ECS member Erich Wachsman.

Watch the full CBS interview.

In an effort to build safer batteries, Wachsman and his group at the University of Maryland are focusing their research efforts on lithium conducting ceramic discs, which can handle thousands of degrees without any issues.

“Because it’s ceramic, it’s actually not flammable,” says Wachsman, director of the university’s Energy Research Center. “You cannot burn ceramic.”

(MORE: Listen to Wachsman discuss his work in water and sanitation.)

Since the rise of Li-ion battery safety in the news, Wachsman’s research has received more attention from industry. He and his group are currently working on scaling up the technology.

ECS Podcast – The Battery Guys

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the commercialization of the lithium-ion battery. To celebrate, we sat down with some of the inventors and pioneers of Li-ion battery technology at the PRiME 2016 meeting.

Speakers John Goodenough (University of Texas at Austin), Stanley Whittingham (Binghamton University), Michael Thackeray (Argonne National Laboratory), Zempachi Ogumi (Kyoto University), and Martin Winter (Univeristy of Muenster) discuss how the Li-ion battery got its start and the impact it has had on society.

Listen to the podcast and download this episode and others for free through the iTunes Store, SoundCloud, or our RSS Feed. You can also find us on Stitcher.

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Electric VehiclesIn 2005, the number of electric vehicles on the road could be measured in the hundreds. Over the years, researchers have made technological leaps in the field of EVs. Now, we’ve exceeded a global threshold of one million EVs, and the demand continues to grow.

However, the ultimate success and growth of the EV hinges on battery technology. With some scientists stating that convention Li-ion batteries are approaching their theoretical energy density limits, researchers have begun exploring new energy storage technologies.

ECS member Qiang Zhang is one researcher focusing on technologies beyond Li-ion, specifically focusing on lithium sulfur batteries in a recently published paper.

“The lithium sulfur battery is recognized as a promising alternative for its intercalation chemistry counterparts,” Zhang says. “It possesses a theoretical energy density of ~2600 Wh kg-1 and provides a theoretical capacity of 1672 mAh g−1 through multi-electron redox reactions. Additionally, valuable characteristics like high natural abundance, low cost and environmental friendliness of sulfur have lent competitive edges to the lithium sulfur battery.”

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Lithium-ion battery safety has been a hot topic in the scientific community in light of instances of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 bursting into flames. In order to address these concerns, scientists must first better understand exactly what is causing these safety concerns. In order to do that, a team from the University of Michigan is looking inside the batteries and filming growing dendrites – something the researchers cite as one of the major problems for next-gen lithium batteries.


The study focused primarily on lithium-metal batteries, which have the potential to store 10 times more energy that current lithium-ion batteries. However, researchers believe that issues with dendrites cannot be amended, the future of the Li-metal battery will not be as limitless as some believe.

“As researchers try to cram more and more energy in the same amount of space, morphology problems like dendrites become major challenges. While we don’t fully know why the Note 7s exploded, dendrites make bad things like that happen,” said Kevin Wood, postdoctoral researcher and ECS student member. “If we want high energy density batteries in the future and don’t want them to explode, we need to solve the dendrite problem.”

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