The latest rechargeable battery technology could drastically improve the capabilities of mobile phones and electric vehicles.
It seems that nearly every household electronic item these days requires a lithium-ion rechargeable battery, from a vacuum cleaner to a pair of headphones.
This results in many of us having a multitude of different devices hooked up to various chargers at any given time, which isn’t exactly ideal.
Now, however, a team of scientists from the University of Michigan is heralding a major breakthrough that could drastically increase the power of rechargeable batteries, with the added bonus of not catching on fire.
Existing rechargeable batteries are made from lithium-ion, a technology that enables a quick charge but has the massive drawback of its exposure to open air causing it to explode and catch fire. It also requires regular charging and can degrade quickly due to overcharging.
But, in a paper soon to be published to the Journal of Power Sources, the research team describe how by using a ceramic, solid-state electrolyte, it was able to harness the power of lithium-metal batteries without any of the traditional negatives of lithium-ion.
In doing so, it could double the output of batteries, meaning a phone could run for days or weeks without charging, or an electric vehicle (EV) could rival fossil fuel-powered cars in range.
Jeff Sakamoto, leader of the research team, said: “This could be a game-changer, a paradigm shift in how a battery operates.”
In the 1980s, lithium-metal batteries were seen as the future, but their tendency to combust during charging led researchers to switch to lithium-ion.
10 times the charging speed
These batteries replaced lithium metal with graphite anodes, which absorb the lithium and prevent tree-like filaments called dendrites from forming, but also come with performance costs.
For example, graphite has a maximum capacity of 350 milliampere hours per gram (mAh/g), whereas lithium metal in a solid-state battery has a specific capacity of 3,800 mAh/g.
To get around the ever so problematic exploding problem in lithium-metal batteries, the team created a ceramic layer that stabilises the surface, keeping dendrites from forming and preventing fires.
With some tweaking, chemical and mechanical treatments of the ceramic provided a pristine surface for lithium to plate evenly.
Whereas once it would take a lithium-metal EV up to 50 hours to charge, the team said it could now do it in three hours or less.
“We’re talking a factor of 10 increase in charging speed compared to previous reports for solid-state lithium-metal batteries,” Sakamoto said.
“We’re now on par with lithium-ion cells in terms of charging rates, but with additional benefits.”