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Lithium-air still a decade away from usurping lithium-ion

Fri, 05/13/2016 - 12:41 -- Paul Crompton
Lithium-air still a decade away from usurping lithium-ion

The holy grail of higher energy density and cheaper lithium batteries is still at least a decade from maturing, according to a leading research scientist from US organisation Argonne.

Khalil Amine said improvements to lithium-ion would see the technology dominate the market for the next decade while lithium-air’s issues are overcome.

Those issues include dendrites, lithium hydroxide killing the anode, peroxide during discharge destroying electrolytes and filling pores of the carbon, said Amine.

And while those issues are ironed out, there’s an opportunity to ‘maximise the energy’ of lithium-ion, said Armine, suggesting changing the anode carbon to silicon or lithium-metal or using all solid state batteries.

However, he said these advances in lithium-ion technology would take 5-10 years to mature, with lithium-air being ready for market in 10-15 years time.

The head of the Technology Development group in the Battery Technology Department within Argonne’s Chemical Engineering Division made the comment during a podcast by the Electrochemical Society.

Amine said: “Lithium-air is the ‘holy grail’ that’s what people talk about it. It’s a simple concept but it’s very complicated. If you put it in a closed system, you can triple, easily, the energy density of lithium-ion. Which is very important. Energy is cost.”

He said that the key for mass adoption of electric vehicles was cheaper battery packs, and lithium-air had the potential do this.

“We do have electric cars on the road now but people aren’t buying them because they’re expensive, especially the battery. If you really want to reduce the cost, you really have to increase the energy,” he said. “Lithium-air offers this opportunity.”

And while this opportunity exists the number of people working on the chemistry is rising. In the past five years the number has risen significantly and Amine pinpoints IBM for this interest among the battery community.

Amine said: “Within five years the understanding of Lithium-air has expanded significantly and the number of papers published is amazing.

“Work is now going on where we don’t have to go to lithium-peroxide, we can stop at super-oxide, which is much more conductive and easy to disassociate in the reversible way and get very high efficiency. There’s a tremendous amount of progress but still a lot of work to be done.”