Scientists at Toyota wanted to ease the minds of cellphone users anxious about their constantly dying batteries when they stumbled upon a breakthrough involving magnesium batteries, which may soon mean smaller and longer-lasting batteries for not only cellphones, but even cars.
Magnesium metal has been viewed as a much safer and more energy-dense alternative to current lithium battery technology. In its natural state, lithium metal is unstable and can ignite when exposed to air, but when ions are taken from the lithium metal and embedded into graphite rods, they can be used in batteries. The only downfall is that the lack of actual metal limits the amount of power a battery can store. On the other hand, magnesium is a very stable metal and has the potential to store much more energy. Until now, research on magnesium-based batteries was limited because a magnesium-friendly electrolyte did not exist.
Toyota scientist and chemical engineer Rana Mohtadi was researching hydrogen storage materials and their application to fuel cell technology when she heard other researchers discussing the challenges of developing an electrolyte for a practical magnesium battery. It dawned on her that her hydrogen storage material might actually be able to solve the longstanding problem, and with further experimentation she was right.
“We were able to take a material that was only used in hydrogen storage, and we made it practical and very competitive for magnesium battery chemistry,” said Mohtadi. “It was exciting.”
The breakthrough is great, and a step in the right direction, but it could take another 20 years to finally see a magnesium battery hit the consumer market. In order to speed up the process, Toyota scientists are reaching out to other scientists and academic groups to help develop the battery further.
“The results really speak to the strength in our group,” said Energy Storage Group Manager Paul Fanson. “We try to put people from diverse backgrounds and diverse technologies together and allow them to collaborate. This is a great example of that working very successfully.”
The team’s paper describing the discovery entitled, “An Efficient Halogen-Free Electrolyte for Use in Rechargeable Magnesium Batteries,” was recently published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition (Vol. 54, Issue 27).