Battery breakthrough could allow lithium-ion batteries to last nearly twice as long

MIT researchers demonstrate battery with power ‘two times that of the state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries’

Anthony Cuthbertson
Thursday 25 March 2021 16:35 GMT
Lithium-ion batteries power everything from smartphones to electric cars but major advancements in their capabilities are rare
Lithium-ion batteries power everything from smartphones to electric cars but major advancements in their capabilities are rare (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A ground-breaking new battery design that increases power without sacrificing cycle life could enable a new generation of long-range drones, robots and electric vehicles.

Researchers at MIT made the discovery while experimenting with metal electrodes in place of the conventional graphite ones found in lithium-ion batteries. They realised that huge advances in power could be made using a novel electrolyte that separates the electrodes.

The breakthrough made it possible to store up to 420 watt-hours per kilogram within a lithium-ion battery, which can typically only store about 260 watt-hours per kilogram.

The team’s research built on previous work on lithium-air batteries – a type of next-generation battery that holds huge potential but still faces several major obstacles before it can be used in everyday devices.

“There’s still really nothing that allows a good rechargeable lithium-air battery,” said Jeremiah Johnson, a chemistry professor at MIT.

“We designed these organic molecules that we hoped might confer stability, compared to the existing liquid electrolytes that are used.”

A paper detailing the research was published in the journal Nature Energy on Thursday.

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The new electrolyte “also enables stable and reversible stripping and plating of lithium metal, an important step toward enabling rechargeable lithium-metal batteries with energy two times that of the state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries,” according to Yang Shao-Horn, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering at MIT.

Professor Johnson said the next step is to make scale the production of the batteries to make them affordable, with a view to commercialise them within a couple of years.

“There’s no expensive elements, it’s just carbon and fluorine. So it’s not limited by resources, it’s just the process,” he said.

“I think if we can show the world that this is a great electrolyte for consumer electronics, the motivation to further scale up will help to drive the price down.”

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