Consumer Peripherals

Moving Beyond Traditional Lithium-ion Batteries

03 December 2015

There have been numerous accounts of upgrades and enhancements to the traditional lithium-ion batteries that have become so popular in consumer electronics.

As with any technology, there are a series of pros and cons to using lithium-ion batteries such as lifespan, cost, and need for protection, which leads to constant research regarding the technology in order to maximize its potential.

Panasonic Li-Ion batteries are using in electric vehicles, backup base stations for mobile telephones, and electricity storage systems with solar power generation. (Source: Panasonic)Panasonic Li-Ion batteries are using in electric vehicles, backup base stations for mobile telephones, and electricity storage systems with solar power generation. (Source: Panasonic)

One such enhancement was made recently by University of Maryland engineers, in collaboration with Army researchers, who recently discovered a lithium-ion battery technology that incorporates salt to produce safer and more efficient batteries.

The teams’ “Water-in-Salt” aqueous Lithium-ion battery technology could provide power, efficiency and longevity comparable to current Lithium-ion batteries, but eliminates fire risk, poisonous chemicals and environmental hazards that come along with traditional Li-ion batteries.

The new type of battery demonstrates a major advance in the long history of water-based (aqueous) batteries by doubling the voltage of an aqueous battery.

“Through this work we were able to increase the electrochemical window of aqueous electrolyte from less than 1.5 Volts to ~ 3.0 Volts and demonstrated high voltage aqueous full Lithium-ion cell with 2.3 Volts, showing for the first time that aqueous batteries could seriously compete in terms of power and energy density with the non-aqueous lithium-ion batteries that power our mobile, digital lifestyle” says Chunsheng Wang, an associate professor in UMD’s Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering.

The researchers believe the battery technology to be quite promising in applications that involve large energies at kilowatt or megawatt levels, such as electric vehicles, or grid-storage devices for energy harvest systems, as well as in applications where battery safety is a concern (airplanes, spaceships, and medical devices).

According to Lt. Col. EdwardShaffer, head of the Army Research Laboratory’s Energy and Power Division, the potential advantages this new approach has over current batteries “could lead to thermally, chemically and environmentally safer batteries carried and worn by soldiers; safe, reduced-footprint energy storage for confined spaces, particularly submarines; and novel hybrid power solutions for military platforms and systems.”

Another such upgrade to the rechargeable battery tech came from Huawei Technology Corp., a provider of electronics for mobile phones, mobile broadband devices and home devices. The company recently announced that its Watt Lab developed a next-generation quick charging technology. The newly developed batteries have achieved charging speeds 10 times faster than normal batteries, reaching about 50% capacity in minutes.

Researchers have not only been looking to enhance lithium-ion batteries, but have also been exploring new battery system alternatives including lithium-air (oxygen) batteries, lithium-sulfur batteries, and sodium-ion batteries for next-gen energy storage capable of high-energy density.

For example, while most electric vehicles, like the Tesla Model S or Nissan Leaf run on rechargeable Li-ion batteries, recent studies are pointing to using lithium-sulfur batteries which can potentially store up to five times more energy – and at a lower cost—according to Stanford University research. A company called Oxis Energy has even developed a lithium-sulfur battery technology that is already attracting military attention.

And, while lithium-air batteries are still years from being commercially used, Cambridge University researchers just last month developed a working laboratory demonstrator of a lithium-oxygen battery with a very high energy density that is over 90% efficient, and can be recharged over 2000 times, displaying new solutions to problems commonly found in this battery alternative.

Another battery looking to replace Lithium-ion batteries is the sodium-ion battery. Researchers from Oxfordshire start-up Faradion, say that sodium compounds that make up the battery’s cathode are close to matching the energy performance of lithium-ion battery materials – and at one-tenth the cost. According to the company, a working sodium-ion battery would be 30% cheaper than a lithium-ion battery. Faradion’s goal is to match the energy density of lithium-ion batteries by next year.

With persistent research and constant battery evolution, there’s no saying which battery will win the biggest and best battery race, but there are plenty of contenders vying for the title.

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