US labs IBM and Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) have downgraded their research on lithium-air technology.
Lithium-air is widely seen as the 'holy grail', not least for for EV batteries. Using the oxidation of lithium at the andoe and the reduction of oxygen at the cathode to induce a current, lithium-air - if ever made to work cost-effectively over sufficient cycles - could lead to batteries with a range of 500 miles drives on a single charge - up to five times more than the average pure EV.
The companies did not announce their decisions publicly. In March, director of Battery 500 Project Winfried Wilcke allegedly said he had a “change of heart” and wants to focus on sodium-air batteries, reports Quartz. When asked why JCESR stepped back from lithium-air too, JCESR manager Kevin Gallagher answered: “The penalty of using gaseous reactions overwhelmed any advantage”.
Lithium-air technology is challenging. The anode is from lithium metal, which ignites when exposed to contaminants and could turn into lithium carbonate. An expensive screening technology is needed.
But there are still companies researching Li-Air. Argonne National Laboratory is currently working on a hybrid combining lithium-ion and lithium-air and Volkswagen announced in May that the car manufacturer wants a new Li-air battery for its EV fleet.
IBM announced its Battery 500 Project in 2009, aiming to bring the lithium-air technology further. To put the US in the lead of battery technology, including lithium-air, the US Energy department established JCESR at Argonne National Laboratory with a $120m fund.