The Current State of Battery Research

By: Marca Doeff, ECS Battery Division Chair

Marca Doeff, a staff scientist in the Energy Storage and Distributed Resources Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and chair of the ECS Battery Division, discusses the future of batteries. Doeff covers advancements and developments, notable contributors and leaders, corporate sponsors and supporters, upcoming meetings and awards, all within the battery field.

What are a few current areas of battery research the division is focusing on?
Anything having to do with lithium-ion batteries, since they are turning out to be the real workhorses of the battery world. While the chemistry is fairly mature at this point, there is still a lot of work going on in silicon anodes, trying to find better cathode materials, and improving electrolytes.

There are also intense efforts going into recycling, advanced manufacturing, and understanding and mitigating safety issues. The so-called “Beyond Li-ion” systems have been the focus of a lot of research in recent years. The ideas for many of these have been around for a while-like lithium metal batteries with sulfur cathodes, or sodium ion (one of my favorites), solid state batteries, or even multivalent chemistries, but the revolution in battery science over the past 25 years or so means that it is worthwhile taking a fresh look at these systems. (more…)

Have you ever picked up your cell, looked at the battery life, and go, “But I just charged this thing. What gives?” It’s not just you. According to The Washington Post, the smartphones battery life is getting worse. And, chances are, you’re new and upgraded 2018 smartphone’s battery life is actually worse than older models.

Phone makers have claimed to have tackled this battle by including more-efficient processors, low-power modes, and artificial intelligence to manage app drain, but it’s no secret to the battery industry that the lithium-ion batteries in smartphones have hit a plateau.

So, what gives? According to Nadim Maluf, CEO of a firm that optimizes batteries called Qnovos, batteries improve at a very slow pace, about 5 percent per year. (more…)

Q&A with George E. Blomgren

George BlomgrenGeorge E. Blomgren is the author of “The Development and Future of Lithium Ion Batteries,” the most-downloaded Journal of The Electrochemical Society paper since April 2017. To put this in perspective, Blomgren’s article has had 26,817 downloads this year. That is over 4.4 times the average amount received by the next nine most-downloaded JES papers for this year. Since its publication in December 2016, Blomgren’s paper has been downloaded a total of 53,575 times.

We decided to revisit the man with the incredible stats, and ask, how did you do it?

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Electric vehicles don’t only move people, they move companies too. And Volkswagen is making big moves when it comes to investing in battery-powered vehicles.

According to an article in AXIOS written by Eric Wachsman, director of the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute at the University of Maryland, founder of Ion Storage Systems, and 3rd vice president of the ECS board of directors, in June alone, Volkswagen invested $100 million in QuantumScape, a solid state battery startup. And now, the car company is considering building a factory in Europe to produce solid state batteries, a next-generation battery technology, to power their electric vehicles. Volkswagen isn’t alone. Solid-electrolyte batteries are getting international attention from companies like Toyota, Nissan, Dyson, and BMW, who’ve all made similar investments. (more…)

Electric VehicleIn 1888, German inventor Andreas Flocken created what is widely considered the world’s first electric car. According to The Battery Issue, recently published by The Verge, the 900-pound vehicle drove at the top speed of nine miles per hour, coming to a halt after a two and a half hour test ride. Although it was considered a success, it wasn’t entirely. The car’s battery, sustainably charged with water power, had died.

Today, nearly 130 years, German carmakers are still having trouble with their batteries – specifically with battery cells. As a result, car companies are relying on suppliers from China, Korea, and Japan for the highly needed component.

“Cells can be a major technology differentiator and cells are the by far most costly part of the battery pack,” says Martin Winter, a professor of materials science, energy, and electrochemistry at the University of Münster and ECS Battery Division and Europe Section member. Winter says a large scale production of battery cells by European or German companies will be crucial in order to take part in the “enormous and rapidly growing market.”

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BatteryA new kind of lithium sulfur battery could be more efficient, less expensive, and safer than currently available lithium batteries.

“We demonstrated this method in a coin battery,” says Donghai Wang, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State. “But, I think it could eventually become big enough for cell phones, drones, and even bigger for electric vehicles.”

Lithium sulfur batteries should be a promising candidate for the next generation of rechargeable batteries, but they are not without problems. For lithium, the efficiency in which charge transfers is low, and, lithium batteries tend to grow dendrites—thin branching crystals—when charging that do not disappear when discharged.

The researchers examined a self-formed, flexible hybrid solid-electrolyte interphase layer that is deposited by both organosulfides and organopolysulfides with inorganic lithium salts. The researchers report that the organic sulfur compounds act as plasticizers in the interphase layer and improve the mechanical flexibility and toughness of the layer. The interphase layer allows the lithium to deposit without growing dendrites. The Coulombic efficiency is about 99 percent over 400 recharging discharging cycles.

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In the field of batteries, lithium is king. But a recent development from scientists at the Toyota Research Institute of North America (TRINA) may introduce a new competitor to the field.

The researchers have recently developed the first non-corrosive electrolyte for a rechargeable magnesium battery, which could open the door to better batteries for everything from cars to cell phones.

“When magnesium batteries become a reality, they’ll be much smaller than current lithium-ion,” says Rana Mohtadi, principal scientist and ECS patron member through TRINA. “They’ll also be cheaper and much safer.”

Magnesium has long been looked at as a possible alternative to lithium due to its high energy density. However, these batteries have not seen much attention in research and development due to the previously non-existent electrolyte. Now that the electrode has been developed, the researchers believe they will be able to demonstrate the value of this system.

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Researcher used microscopy to take an atomic-level look at a cubic garnet material called LLZO that could help enable higher-energy battery designs.Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Researcher used microscopy to take an atomic-level look at a cubic garnet material called LLZO that could help enable higher-energy battery designs.
Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The quest for better batteries is an ongoing trend, and now the researchers from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have yet another development to add.

During their research, the scientists found exceptional properties in a garnet material. They now believe that this could lead to the development of higher-energy battery designs.

This from ORNL:

The ORNL-led team used scanning transmission electron microscopy to take an atomic-level look at a cubic garnet material called LLZO. The researchers found the material to be highly stable in a range of aqueous environments, making the compound a promising component in new battery configurations.

Read the full article here.

While most researcher tend to use a pure lithium anode to improve a battery’s energy density, the ORNL scientists believe the LLZO would be an ideal separator material.

“Many novel batteries adopt these two features [lithium anode and aqueous electrolyte], but if you integrate both into a single battery, a problem arises because the water is very reactive when in direct contact with lithium metal,” said ORNL postdoctoral associate Cheng Ma, first author on the team’s study published in Angewandte Chemie. “The reaction is very violent, which is why you need a protective layer around the lithium.”

With developments such as these, which lead to higher-energy batteries – we begin to improve electrified transportation and electric grid energy storage applications. Due to the importance of higher-energy batteries, researchers tend to explore battery designs beyond the limits of lithium-ion technologies.

Read the full study here.

To find out more about battery and how it will revolutionize the future, check out what the ECS Battery Division is doing. Also, head over to the Digital Library to read the latest research (some is even open access!). While you’re there, don’t forget to sign up for e-Alerts so you can keep up-to-date with the fast-paced world of electrochemical and solid-state science.