Binod Kumar, leader of the University of Dayton Research Institute has published in the 2010 Issue 1 of the Journal of the Electrochemical Society that the group has developed the first solid-state, rechargeable lithium-air battery.  Kumar is calling this a breakthrough designed to address the fire and explosion risk of other lithium rechargeable batteries and pave the way for development of large-size lithium rechargeable batteries for a number of industry applications, including hybrid and electric cars.

Kumar says, “We have successfully fabricated and tested the first totally solid-state lithium-air battery, which represents a major advancement in the quest for a commercially viable, safe rechargeable battery with high energy and power densities and long cycle life.  We believe this breakthrough represents a great opportunity to companies who are eager to incorporate significantly higher energy, longer-life and safer batteries into their products.”

The cell is comprised of a Lithium metal anode, a highly Lithium-ion conductive solid electrolyte membrane laminate fabricated from glass–ceramic and polymer–ceramic materials, and a solid-state composite air cathode prepared from high surface area carbon and ionically conducting glass–ceramic powder.

Kumar and the Lithium Air Battery.  Click image for more info.

Kumar and the Lithium Air Battery. Click image for more info.

In the effort to increase the battery’s energy density (the ratio of energy to battery weight), the development is designed to mitigate the volatile nature of traditional lithium-ion batteries, such as those used in cell phones and laptops, which can overheat and catch fire or rupture.  Because of their lighter weight and high-energy capacity, lithium-ion batteries are being increasingly used in aerospace and automotive applications, but their full potential for larger applications remains untapped because of technological challenges – primarily related to the self-igniting fire safety concern.

Currently, restrictions exist for ground and air transport of lithium batteries.  Kumar says, “There have been a number of accidents and a large number of recalls involving lithium batteries.  Most batteries use a liquid electrolyte, which creates a number of problems. They are corrosive and can leak. A short circuit or excessive heat from exposure to direct sunlight or use in a poorly vented laptop, for example, not only shortens battery life, but can cause the battery to rupture, ignite or explode.”

Kumar and his colleagues addressed the safety issues by developing an entirely solid-state lithium battery – no liquid is present in the cell. “We’ve replaced the liquid electrolyte with a solid electrolyte that works just as well, but is far safer,” Kumar said. The primary component of the new electrolyte is a glass-ceramic material that is very stable, even when in contact with water.

Kumar’s group applied innovations on solid electrolytes to develop the new technology in the form of a lithium-air battery, rather than a lithium-ion, because they are much lighter and have the potential to be the most energy-dense and most environmentally friendly rechargeable batteries.

So just how far has the breakthrough gotten on the temperature range, the recharge discharge cycles, and the humidity matter?  Kumar says,  “We made and tested more than three dozen lithium-air batteries during the last year, and each exhibited superior performance – even at temperatures as high as 225F.  As development of the technology continues, researchers will also focus on cycle life – the number of times a battery can be discharged and recharged. “We’re currently at a cycle life of 40, with a goal of 4,000, which is significantly greater than the cycle life of current lithium batteries.”

The press release isn’t saying anything about the water effects.

But the paper’s abstract does make an exceptional assertion saying, “We believe that the Li–O2 cell, when fully developed, could exceed specific energies of 1000 Wh/kg in practical configurations.”  That’s a noteworthy assertion when the theoretical specific energy of the Lithium-air cell is 13,000 Wh/kg, the highest of any metal-air battery system.  Kumar thinks he’ll get better than 75% there – which makes the effort quite worthwhile.

Kumar and his colleagues have focused on electrolyte research for two decades and hold a number of patents in the field. Research to develop the new lithium battery was funded in part by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Propulsion Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

It seems that the innovation here is in the design and materials that might prove to solve some of the major issues facing rechargeable air batteries.  The big issue is solve the junk coming in with the desired oxygen, but water and the wealth of other things in the air accumulate, simply smothering the reactions.

Solid state looks to offer a construction solving some of the issues, we’ll watch with interest to see if Kumar and his group can get the Lithium air chemistry to stay fully functional for the cycles needed to make Lithium air an economically viable choice.


6 Comments so far

  1. tchibo gutschein on August 3, 2010 10:16 PM

    🙂 cool!

  2.  Basin Taps on August 16, 2010 8:46 AM

    Lithium batteries offer higher capacity and very light weight compared to conventional batteries.

  3. Brianna Lee on October 4, 2010 10:28 AM

    lithium batteries are very expensive but they are very lightweight:~.

  4. Rodger Wilby on November 4, 2010 10:03 AM

    Superb blog post, exactly what I had been seeking.

  5. Willa on February 6, 2011 4:07 PM

    It’s perfect time to make some plans for the future and it’s time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I wish to suggest you some interesting things or advice, maybe you could write more articles referring to this article. I desire to read more about it!

  6. TRACY on March 10, 2011 5:38 PM

    Does anyone know if I am interested in putting it into production, what kind of technology license I would need to deal with?

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