BatteryLithium-air batteries are viewed by many as a potential next-generation technology in energy storage. With the highest theoretical energy density of all battery devices, Li-air could revolutionize everything from electric vehicles to large-scale grid storage. However, the relatively young technology has a few barriers to overcome before it can be applied. A new study published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society (JES) is taking a fundamental step forward in advancing Li-air through the development of mixed metal catalyst that could lead to more efficient electrode reactions in the battery.

The paper, entitled “In Situ Formed Layered-Layered Metal Oxide as Bifunctional Catalyst for Li-Air Batteries,” details a cathode catalyst composed of three transition metals (manganese, nickel, and cobalt), which can create the right oxidation state during the battery cycling to enable both the catalysis of the charge and the discharge reaction.

Future opportunities

According to K.M. Abraham, co-author of the paper, the manganese allows for the catalysis of the oxygen reduction reaction while the cobalt catalyzes the charge reaction of the battery.

“This offers opportunities for future research to develop similar materials to optimize the catalysis of the Li-air battery using one material that will combine the functions of these mixed metal oxides,” Abraham says.


Lithium-oxygen battery

Image: MIT

New lithium-oxygen battery technology proposed by researchers from MIT, Argonne National Laboratory, and Peaking University, promises a scalable, cheap, and safe option in energy storage.

There is immense promise for lithium-oxygen batteries in such applications as electric cars and portable electronics. In fact, they are between five and 15 times more efficient than lithium-ion batteries in transportation applications due to their high energy output potential in proportion to their weight.

But there have been complications in developing and especially implementing these batteries in the marketplace. Primarily, they’ve been known to waste energy and degrade quickly.

But this new study, co-authored by ECS member and past IMLB chair Khalil Amine, states that the theoretical potential for lithium-oxygen batteries could be met while overcoming some of the biggest barriers prohibiting the technology.

Once of the primary focuses of the group was overcoming the mismatch in voltages that happens in charging and discharging the battery. Because the output voltage is more than 1.2 volts lower that that used to charge, there is typically a significant power loss.

“You waste 30 percent of the electrical energy as heat in charging,” says Ju Li, professor at MIT and co-author of the paper. “It can actually burn if you charge it too fast.”


batteries-1379208_640In late 2015, a team of Cambridge University researchers led by ECS member Clare Grey, detailed research in the journal Science on the path to the “ultimate” battery. According to the study, the researchers stated they had successfully demonstrated how to overcome many of the problems preventing the theoretically promising lithium-air battery from being commercially viable.

The key component to this research relies on a highly porous, “fluffy” carbon electrode made from graphene. The researchers cautioned that although the preliminary results were very promising, much work was yet to be done to take lithium-air batteries from the lab to the marketplace.

However, the research got many scientists in energy science and technology talking. Like all groundbreaking results, there has been much discussion and some controversy over the research published by Grey and her team.


Advancing Lithium-Air Batteries

As electronics advances, the demand for high-performance batteries increases. The lithium-ion battery is currently leading the charge in powering portable electronic devices, but another lithium-based battery contender is on the horizon.

The lithium-air battery is one of the most promising research areas in current lithium-based battery technology. While researchers such as ECS’s K.M. Abraham have been on the Li-air beat since the late 90s, current research is looking to propel this technology with the hopes of commercializing it for practical use.

A new contender: Lithium-air batteries

Recently, Khalil Amine, IMLB chair; and Larry Curtiss, IMLB invited speaker, co-authored a paper detailing a lithium-air battery that could store up to five times more energy than today’s lithium-ion battery.

(MORE: Submit your abstract for IMLB today!)

This work brings society one step closer to the commercial use of lithium-air batteries. In previous works regarding Li-air, researchers continuously encountered the same phenomenon of the clogging of the pores of the electrode.


viswanathan-news-brief-chart_500x429-minLithium-air batteries are—in theory—an extremely attractive alternative for affordable, efficient energy storage for electric vehicles. However, as researchers explore this technology, they are met with many critical challenges. If researchers can overcome these challenges, there is a great likelihood that the lithium-air battery will surpass the energy density of today’s lithium-ion battery.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of California, Berkley feel like they may have part of the answer to this critical challenge, which could propel the practicality of the lithium-air battery. The team, which included researchers from Bryan McCloskey and Venkat Viswanathan‘s laboratories, has found a way to both increase the capacity while preserving the recharge ability of the lithium-air battery by blending different types within the battery’s electrolytes.

“The electrolytes used in batteries are just like Gatorade electrolytes,” says Venkat Viswanathan, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon. “Every electrolyte has a solvent and a salt. So if you take Gatorade, the solvent would be water and the salt would be something like sodium chloride, for instance. However, in a lithium air battery, the solvent is dimethoxyethane and the salt is something like lithium hexafluorophosphate.”