The creator of the first lithium-ion battery has just released a new battery cell that could mark the next stage of battery development, offering a huge boost for the electric car industry and beyond.
The solid-state cells that John Goodenough and his team have developed use glass electrolytes instead of liquid electrolytes like the lithium-ion batteries currently use. This means they are incombustible, overcoming one serious problem with other lithium-ion batteries: the so-called dendrites that appear when a battery is being charged too quickly, causing a short circuit and killing the battery.
And that’s just the start. According to the researchers, their battery has at least three times the energy density of other lithium-ion batteries, it has a longer life cycle (a minimum of 1,200 charge-discharge cycles), and it charges more quickly – in minutes instead of hours. On top of all of this, the low-cost battery—yes, it’s cheap—can work in both subzero temperatures (-20 degrees Celsius) and major heat (60 degrees Celsius).
The implications of such an invention are numerous for all devices and systems that use rechargeable batteries. Yet the most important ones seem to be linked to the electric car industry.
For now, electric car adoption is slow; not just because of often prohibitively high prices, but also because of the time it takes to recharge a vehicle. Plus, there is the problem with the dendrites, which automatically means you need to buy a new battery—and a new battery still doesn’t come cheap, even though prices have been falling steadily.
One additional benefit of the new glass batteries is that they don’t necessarily use lithium: glass electrolytes also work with sodium, which is much more widely available than lithium and can be extracted from seawater. The researcher who began the whole glass electrolyte project and later teamed up with Goodenough and other University of Texas scientists to advance it, Maria Helena Braga, also notes that sodium is cheaper than lithium, thus bringing the price of the final product even lower.
It may sound too good to be true, and lithium miners would certainly hope it is, but Goodenough and Braga are working on several patents, and their battery could hit the market some time in the future.
Meanwhile, another company is also working on a safer lithium-ion battery. American Lithium Energy is working on a technology dubbed Safe Core, which, according to a media report, is not much to look at, but does not explode. The company is keeping its cards close to its chest. What’s public is that Soft Core was developed as part of American Lithium’s work for the U.S. military, which needed reliable batteries to power electric vehicles without the danger of having them explode due to a short circuit or explode when the vehicle crashes.
There’s an obvious trend for cheaper, more reliable, and longer-life batteries—there is no other way to make electric cars and energy storage systems mainstream. Future developments would certainly be interesting to watch, as more inventions are likely on the way.
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