New Lithium-Air Battery Performs Four Times Better than Lithium-Ion

The new safer batteries can store more energy than lithium-ion batteries


Researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have developed a lithium-air battery design that could power domestic airplanes and long-haul trucks.

The research, published in a recent issue of Science, was funded by the DOE Vehicle Technologies Office and the Office of Basic Energy Sciences through the Joint Centre for Energy Storage Research.

The main new component in this lithium-air battery is a solid electrolyte instead of the usual liquid variety.

Batteries with solid electrolytes are not prone to safety issues associated with the liquid electrolytes used in lithium-ion and other battery types, which can overheat and catch fire.

The team’s battery chemistry with the solid electrolyte can potentially boost the energy density by as many as four times above lithium-ion batteries, translating into a longer driving range.

“The lithium-air battery has the highest projected energy density of any battery technology being considered for the next generation of batteries beyond lithium-ion,” said Larry Curtiss, an Argonne Distinguished Fellow.

The team’s new solid electrolyte is composed of a ceramic polymer material made from relatively inexpensive elements in nanoparticle form.

The solid enables chemical reactions that produce lithium oxide (Li2O) on discharge.

“The chemical reaction for lithium superoxide or peroxide only involves one or two electrons stored per oxygen molecule, whereas that for lithium oxide involves four electrons,” said Argonne chemist Rachid Amine.

More electrons mean higher energy density.

The team said its lithium-air design is the first lithium-air battery that has achieved a four-electron reaction at room temperature.

It also operates with oxygen supplied by air from the surrounding environment and has the capability to run with air avoiding the need for oxygen tanks to operate — which was a problem with earlier designs.

The team employed many different techniques to establish that a four-electron reaction was actually taking place.

One key technique was transmission electron microscopy of the discharge products on the cathode surface which provided valuable insight into the four-electron discharge mechanism.

Past lithium-air test cells suffered from very short cycle lives. However, the team established that this shortcoming is not the case for their new battery design by building and operating a test cell for 1,000 cycles, demonstrating its stability over repeated charge and discharge.

With further development, the researchers expect their new design for the lithium-air battery to also reach a record energy density of 1,200 watt-hours per kilogram.

Earlier this month, researchers from Stanford University and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory said that they have solved the mystery behind the persistent problem of short-circuit and failure in new lithium metal batteries.

In January, researchers at the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science & Technology said they had developed a new electrolyte technology through magnetic nanoparticles that can improve both the stability and lifespan of next-generation lithium batteries.