The only thing is… they’re not very efficient. In fact, their energy density is absolutely terrible when compared to just about anything else.
Lithium-Oxygen – the Next-Generation Battery?
While it’s annoying to see the battery power drain from your phone too quickly, it’s far more important that their power lasts longer in other items.
Like electric cars, for example.
In order for these vehicles to eventually match the range of gasoline-powered cars, we need something much better.
One likely candidate is the lithium-air or lithium-oxygen battery. Why?
- Right off the bat, its energy density is 10 times greater than a lithium-ion battery. That makes it more comparable to gasoline.
- Such a battery would also be one-fifth of the weight of a current lithium-ion battery.
- It would also cost one-fifth as much.
So what’s the holdup?
Well, the chemical reactions in lithium-oxygen batteries produce lots of unwanted side-effects.
These include rapid degradation when recharged (previous lithium-air batteries failed after just a few dozen recharges) and damage in the presence of water. Not to mention short circuits and explosions.
But a team of scientists at Cambridge University has reached a breakthrough…
Led by Clare Grey, the team has developed a working laboratory model of a lithium-oxygen battery that’s 90% efficient, has been recharged 2,000 times with little degradation, and is far more water-tolerant.
If the science holds, it could prove priceless for the electric car industry, as Grey estimates that the battery could store five times as much energy as the lithium-ion batteries currently used by Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) and others.
Their work has brought about a new way of thinking in regards to how these batteries are constructed.
Previous lithium-air batteries produced electricity by combining lithium and oxygen – a process that formed lithium peroxide. The recharge occurs by applying an electric current, thus reversing the chemical reaction.
But Grey and her team have made subtle, but important, changes.
Their working model relies on a highly porous, “fluffy” carbon electrode made from graphene oxide and additives that change the chemical reactions at work in the battery.
Result? Greater stability and efficiency.
However, more work is needed.
The new model still causes spindly lithium fibers called dendrites to form. These are what can cause a short circuit.
In addition, the current model battery still requires pure oxygen in order to cycle. But obviously, the Earth’s atmosphere isn’t pure oxygen.
That’s why the scientists say commercialization of the battery could still be a decade or so away.
However, their research has merit – and has drawn funding from some big hitters, such as the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the EU, the U.S. Department of Energy, and British sustainable technologies company Johnson Matthey PLC (JMPLY).
When this battery technology does mature to the point of commercialization, it could dramatically change the landscape for electric cars.
Heck, your phone would hold a charge longer, too!