The Search for a Super Battery

From electric vehicles to grid storage for renewables, batteries are key components in many of tomorrow’s innovations. But current commercialized batteries face problems of price, efficiency, safety, and life-cycle. The television series, NOVA, is exploring many of those issues in the upcoming episode, “Search for the Super Battery.”

A preview of the episode by CBS News explores two innovators who are working toward the next big thing in battery 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.

John B. Goodenough

Goodenough was recently named Fellow of ECS at the PRiME 2016 meeting.

John B. Goodenough is recognized internationally as one of the key minds behind the development of the lithium-ion battery; a device that is used to power a huge percentage of today’s electronics and a technology that helped shape the technological frontier.

In a recent interview with the BBC’s Today program’s John Humphrys, the man who helped make the mobile phone possible discusses battery safety in light of exploding Samsung batteries, the Nobel Prize, and his why he doesn’t like cellphones.

“I see the students running around, punching these little tablets, and not talking with one another,” Goodenough says. “I see people going out to dinner and not talking to their partner, rather sitting there talking to someone on their phone, I say, ‘Well, that’s not the way to live.’ Technology is morally neural, it’s what we do with technology that judges us.”

Listen to the full interview here.

Researchers from New York University have developed a new technique to give a highly detailed, 3D look inside a lithium-ion battery.

“One particular challenge we wanted to solve was to make the measurements 3D and sufficiently fast, so that they could be done during the battery charging cycle,” explains Alexej Jerschow, co-author of the study that details the development. “This was made possible by using intrinsic amplification processes, which allow one to measure small features within the cell to diagnose common battery failure mechanisms. We believe these methods could become important techniques for the development of better batteries.”

The look that the researchers offer gives new insight to dendrites – the deposits that build up inside a Li-ion battery that can affect performance and safety. To do this, the team used MRI technology to focus the image and took an additional step to improve image quality.


Lithium battery

Image: ANL/Flickr

A new open access paper published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society entitled, “Lithium-Ion Cathode/Coating Pairs for Transition Metal Containment,” finds a new cathode coating for li-ion batteries that could extend the technology’s lifespan.

According to Green Car Congress, the dissolution of transition metals is a major contributor to a li-ion battery’s expedited aging and degradation. However, this new study published in JES by ECS members David Snydacker, Muratahan Aykol, Scott Kirklin, and Christopher Wolverton from Northwestern University makes the case for a new, promising candidate that can act as a stable coating and limit the dissolution of transition metals into the lion electrolyte. That candidate is Li3PO4.

This from “Lithium-Ion Cathode/Coating Pairs for Transition Metal Containment”:

There are several distinct categories of strategies for limiting TM dissolution from the cathode. Electrolytes can be tailored to reduce reactivity with the cathode. Cathode materials can be doped to control the oxidation states of transition metals. This doping can be applied to the entire cathode particle or just near the surface. Cathode materials can also be covered with surface coatings to limit TM dissolution. Surface coatings can perform a variety of functions for different cathode materials. In this work, we evaluate the ability of coating materials to contain TMs in the cathode and thereby prevent TM dissolution into the electrolyte.


When lithium-ion pioneers M. Stanley Whittingham, Adam Heller, Michael Thackeray, and of course, John Goodenough were in the initial stages of the technology’s development in the 1970s through the late 1980s, there was no clear idea of just how monumental the lithium-based battery would come to be. Even up to a few years ago, the idea of an electric vehicle or renewable grid dependent on lithium-ion technology seemed like a pipe dream. But now, electric vehicles are making their way to the mainstream and with them comes the commercially-driven race to acquire lithium.

Just look at the rise of Tesla and success of the Nissan LEAF. Not only are these cars speaking to a real concern for environmental protection, they’re also becoming the more affordable option in transportation. For example, the LEAF goes for less than $25,000 and gets more than 80 miles per charge. Plus, electric vehicles can currently run on electricity that’s costing around $0.11 per kWh, which is roughly equivalent to $0.99 per gallon. The last year alone saw a 60 percent spike in the sale of electric vehicles.

“Electric cars are just plain better,” says James Fenton, director of the Florida Solar Energy Center and newly appointed ECS Secretary. “They’re cheaper to buy up front and they’re cheaper to operate, which years ago, was not the case.”

All things considered, lithium may just be the number one commodity of our time.

But this movement is not specific to the U.S. alone. In Germany – a country dedicated to a renewable future – there is a mandate that all new cars in the country will have to be emission-free by 2030. Similarly in Norway, the government is looking to ban gasoline-powered cars by 2025.

So with the transportation sector heading away from gasoline-powered cars and toward lithium battery-based vehicles globally, what will that do to lithium supplies?


Hearing aid battery

One pair of ZPower hearing aid batteries can keep more than 200 disposable batteries out of the landfill.
Image: ZPower

Lithium based technologies have been dominant in the battery arena since Sony commercialized the first Li-ion battery in 1991. ECS member Jeff Ortega, however, believes that a different material holds more promise than its lithium competitor in the world of microbattery technology.

During the 229th ECS Meeting, Ortega presented work that focused on the analysis of data from commercially available rechargeable Li-ion and Li-polymer cells. He then compared the silver-zinc button cells of ZPower, where he currently serves as the company’s director of research. His results showed that the company’s silver-zinc button cells offer both greater capacity and greater density than their Li-ion and Li-polymer counterparts. Additionally, Ortega stated that the cells are also generally safer and better for the environment.

[MORE: Read Ortega’s meeting abstract.]

According to Ortega, the small silver-zinc cells have 57 percent greater energy density than both types of lithium based calls. Their potential applications including medical devices, body worn sensors, wearables, and any other microbattery application that demands long wear time. Currently, ZPower has implement these cells in hearing aid technologies.

“The ZPower Rechargeable System for Hearing Aids makes it easy to convert many new and existing hearing aids to rechargeable technology,” says Ortega in a statement. “The Rechargeable System offers a full day of power, charges overnight in the hearing aids, takes the place of an estimated 200 disposable batteries and lasts a full year. The ZPower hearing aid battery is replaced once per year by a hearing care professional, so the patient never has to touch a hearing aid battery again.”

Researchers from the University of Maryland and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory have developed a lithium-ion battery that is safer, cheaper, more powerful, and extremely environmentally friendly – all by adding a pinch of salt.

The team, led by ECS members Chunsheng Wang and Kang Xu, built on previous “water-in-salt” lithium-ion battery research – concluding that by adding a second salt to the water-based batteries, efficiency levels rise while safety risks and environmental hazards decrease.

(WATCH: Wang’s presentation at the fifth international ECS Electrochemical Energy Summit, entitled “A Single Material Battery.”)

“Our invention has the potential to transform the energy industry by replacing flammable, toxic lithium ion batteries with our safe, green water-in-salt battery,” says Wang, professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering. “This technology may increase the acceptance and improve the utility of battery-powered electric vehicles, and enable large-scale energy storage of intermittent energy generators like solar and wind.”


Electronic cigarettes have paved a path for smokers to get their nicotine fix in a safer way. However, with recent news reports of the devices exploding into bursts of flames, many consumers now wary of the safety concerns.

E-cigarettes are relatively simple devices. Powered by a battery, an internal heating element vaporizes the liquid solution in the cartridge. But for a New York teen, the process wasn’t as simple as he expected.

Anatomy of an e-cigarette

According to a report by USA Today, the teen pressed the button to activate his e-cigarette and it exploded in his hands like “a bomb went off.”

Investigators expect that the device’s lithium-ion battery malfunctioned. Li-ion batteries, however, are the driving force behind personal electronics, electric vehicles, and even have potential in large-scale grid storage. So why are devices like hoverboards and e-cigarettes experiencing such issues with Li-ion battery safety when so many other applications consider the energy dense, long-life battery a non-safety hazard?


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.


  • Page 5 of 8