Battery Breakthrough?


A recently published paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society titled “Nontraditional, Safe, High Voltage Rechargeable Cells of Long Cycle Life” (April 24, 2018) offers a glimpse into future battery technology. The following are some of the highlights of this new invention (via Axios and the JACS article):

1. It operates at room temperature.

2. It is a safe cell battery since it uses no liquid electrolyte.

3. It has “… double the energy density of existing lithium-ion…” batteries.

4. It can be both fast charged and fast discharged.

5. It is an “…all-solid-state rechargeable battery cell….”

6. It uses lithium.

7. It has a plasticizer able to react to changes in volume and store Lithium ions.

8. It uses a low cost oxide host cathode (meaning no Cobalt is used).

9. It can be charged to 5-volts. “The cell can be charged to a high voltage versus a lithium anode because of the added charge of the EDLCs [electrostatic double-layer capacitors].”

10. It has a long cycle life having achieved over 23,000 cycles. If cycled daily in an electric car, this would imply a usable life of 63-years.

11. Battery cell capacity increases as the number of cycles increases. This happens because the “…Li+- glass is not reduced on contact with metallic lithium, [thus] no passivating interface layer contributes to a capacity fade; instead, the discharge capacity increases with cycle number as a result of dipole polarization in the Li+-glass electrolyte leading to a capacity increase of the Li+-glass/plasticizer EDLC.”

12. It has the ability to retain a charge when unplugged.

Graph from Nontraditional, Safe, High Voltage Rechargeable Cells of Long Cycle Life

In short, this is a low-cost, safe, high-energy-density, long-life, and low-degradation battery. It overcomes every single problem of current battery technology. In my opinion, this happens as a result of overcoming both the lithium-ion SEI (solid electrolyte interphase) battery problem and material degradation due to volume expansion.

The paper was co-authored by John Goodenough, Maria Helena Braga, Chandrasekar M Subramaniya, Andrew J. Murchison (all four from the Texas Materials Institute and the Materials Science and Engineering Program at The University of Texas at Austin) and Maria Helena Braga (from LAETA, Engineering Physics Department, FEUP, at the University of Porto, Porto, Portugal).

The first lithium batteries were proposed in the 1970’s by a British chemist, M Stanley Whittingham, while working at Exxon. Oddly enough, Exxon was worried about Peak Oil, and this was the company’s motivation in funding his research. His original proposal due to technical reasons was not feasible. Mr. Whittingham is currently at Binghamton University.

The work started by Mr. Wittingham in lithium batteries would be further developed over the years by researchers in Europe, the United States, and Japan. Research was carried on in 1973 by Adam Heller, in 1974 by J. O. Besenhard at TU Munich, in 1977 by Samar Basu, in 1979 by Ned A. Godshall and coworkers, in 1980 by John Goodenough and Koichi Mizushima, in 1980 by Rachid Yazami, in 1983 by Michael M. Thackeray, John B. Goodenough, and coworkers, in 1985 by Akira Yoshino, and in 1989 by John Goodenough and Arumugam Manthiram.

Professor John Goodenough, an immigrant to the United States, a World War II veteran, a graduate from Yale University, a physics doctorate from the University of Chicago, a research scientist at MIT, a tenured departamental head at Oxford University, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, an emeritus professor at the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas, Austin, a multi-award recipient, and a multi-society active and honorary member, has been involved in lithium batteries since at least 1980 when he was 57-years of age. Now, at the tender age of 96-years old he continues to develop the field.

Assistant Professor Maria Helena Sousa Soares de Oliveira Braga, a graduate from Porto University, Portugal, a research scholar and a long term visiting staff member at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a senior research fellow in the Materials Institute in Materials Science and Materials Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, and a research scientist, assistant professor, and engineering professor at LAETA, Engineering Physics Department, FEUP, at the University of Porto, Porto, Portugal.

A previous publication, published in (December 9, 2016) the Journal of Energy & Environmental Science of the Royal Society of Chemistry, titled “Alternative strategy for a safe rechargeable battery” offers insight into the construction of this new type of battery.

A battery “… constructed using an alkali metal (lithium or sodium foil) as the negative electrode (cathode), and a mixture of carbon and a redox active component, as the positive electrode (anode). The cathode mixture is coated onto copper foil. The redox active component is either sulfur, ferrocene, or manganese dioxide. The electrolyte is a highly conductive glass formed from lithium hydroxide and lithium chloride and doped with barium, allowing fast charging of the battery without the formation of metal dendrites.

“The publication states that the battery operates during discharge by stripping the alkali metal from the anode and re-depositing it at the cathode, with the battery voltage determined by the redox active component and the capacity of the battery determined by the amount of the alkali metal anode. This operating mechanism is radically different from the insertion (intercalation) mechanism of most conventional Li-ion battery materials.”

This second paper was co-authored by John Goodenough, Maria Helena Braga, N. S. Grundish, Andrew J. Murchison (all four from the Texas Materials Institute and the Materials Science and Engineering Program at The University of Texas at Austin) and Maria Helena Braga (from CEMUC, Engineering Physics Department, FEUP, at the University of Porto, Porto, Portugal).

In addition, assuming that these two publications refer to the same battery design that the team was reported to be working in 2017, it has a range of useful working temperatures from -4°F to 140°F. That battery, a lithium-glass battery had a solid glass electrolyte. The electrolyte is located between the positive cathode and the negative anode, and its function is to serve as a conduit for the chemical reactions necessary to produce electricity. The electrolyte is made from lithium or sodium, and it, also, includes barium, oxygen, and chlorine. The advantage of the electrolyte is that no dendrites are formed on the anode, and this makes it a much safer battery technology.

Mark Anderson from IEEE Spectrum in paraphrasing Maria Helena Sousa Soares de Oliveira Braga and as reported in Nova had this to say, “…the lithium- or sodium-doped glass endows the battery with a far greater capacity to store energy in the electric field. So, the battery can, in this sense, behave a little more like a lightning-fast supercapacitor. (In technical terms, the battery’s glass electrolyte endows it with a higher so-called dielectric constant than the volatile organic liquid electrolyte in a lithium-ion battery.)”

In another interview, Professor Goodenough had this to say regarding current lithium-ion battery technology, “There are three basic problems with the lithium-ion battery. First, you can’t charge it fast enough. Second, you can’t overcharge it without getting oxygen. And third, it’s got a flammable electrolyte with a window that’s not big enough. If you want energy density, you’ve got to have the voltage times the current.”

Professor Goodenough thinks that the main problem in scaling up production of their invention lies in thin membranes. “We don’t yet know how thin we can make it. It has to be under 30 microns to get the rates you want. The scaleup shouldn’t be a problem. The electric car that is competitive with the internal combustion engine will be here in 10 years.”

Several manufacturing companies are interested in the new battery technology, and are currently working in getting it ready for mass production; however, a working product will be ready in a few more years from now.

More specifically in March 2017, Professor Goodenough had this to say, “…we have done many tests with laboratory cells. Manufacturing a marketable battery cell will take about 2 years of development by a competent battery company, but we have over 50 companies showing interest to be able to perform tests of our results. I am optimistic that our tests will be verified and that product development will begin soon.” These “…battery companies have shown interest in validating our findings and marketing products.”

Non-confirmed comments suggest that Tesla is aware of this technology.

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