Researchers at the University of Maryland (UM) have announced a lithium ion battery design that effectively solves the lithium metal-solid electrolyte interface resistance problem that has been a major barrier to the development of a robust solid-state battery technology. The researchers at the UM Energy Research Center and A. James Clark School of Engineering have developed a transformative design in the race to produce batteries that are all at once safe, powerful, and affordable.

Liangbing Hu, associate professor of materials science and engineering and one of the corresponding authors of the paper explained, “This is a revolutionary advancement in the field of solid-state batteries – particularly in light of recent battery fires, from Boeing 787s to hoverboards to Samsung smartphones. Our garnet-based solid-state battery is a triple threat, solving the typical problems that trouble existing lithium-ion batteries: safety, performance, and cost.”

A new paper describing the research has been published online in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Materials.

This is a substantial announcement because the current lithium ion technology can be quite dangerous, expensive and harmful to further adoption of more and better devices as well as devastating to companies when designs fail en mass.

The researchers are developing game-changing solid-state battery technology, and have made a key advance by inserting a layer of ultra-thin aluminum oxide between lithium electrodes and a solid non-flammable ceramic electrolyte known as garnet. Prior to this advance, there had been little success in developing high-performance, garnet-based solid-state batteries, because the high impedance, more commonly called resistance, between the garnet electrolyte and electrode materials limited the flow of energy or current, dramatically decreasing the battery’s ability to charge and discharge.

The UM team solved the problem of high impedance between the garnet electrolyte and electrode materials with a layer of ultrathin aluminum oxide, which decreases the impedance 300 fold. This innovation virtually eliminates the barrier to electricity flow within the battery, allowing for efficient charging and discharging of the stored energy.

This development is really a different technology. Lithium-ion batteries typically contain a liquid organic electrolyte that can catch fire, as shown by numerous consumer electronic battery fires and even the temporary grounding of the Boeing 787 fleet for a series of battery fires. This fire risk is eliminated by the UMD team’s use of the non-flammable garnet-based solid-state electrolyte.

Bruce Dunn, UCLA materials science and engineering professor, a leading expert in energy storage materials, who was not involved in this research said, “The work by [the University of Maryland research team] effectively solves the lithium metal-solid electrolyte interface resistance problem, which has been a major barrier to the development of a robust solid-state battery technology.”

In addition, the high stability of these garnet electrolytes enable the team to use metallic lithium anodes, which contain the greatest possible theoretical energy density and are considered one of the ‘holy grails’ of batteries. Combined with high-capacity sulfur cathodes, this all solid-state battery technology offers a potentially unmatched energy density that far outperforms any lithium-ion battery currently on the market.

Eric Wachsman, professor and director of the University of Maryland Energy Research Center and the other corresponding author of the paper said, “This technology is on the verge of changing the landscape of energy storage. The broad deployment of batteries is critical to increase the flexibility of how and when energy is used, and these solid-state batteries will both increase the safety and decrease size, weight, and cost of batteries.”

John B. Goodenough, the Virginia H. Cockrell Centennial Chair in Engineering at the University of Texas, an acclaimed lithium-ion battery pioneer who also was unaffiliated with the study said, “This [finding] is of considerable interest to those working to replace the flammable liquid electrolyte of the lithium-ion rechargeable battery with a solid electrolyte from which a lithium anode can be plated dendrite-free when a cell is being charged.”

Your humble writer believes this is bigger news than one might first suspect. Not only has the UM team done the leading work, but one would not be surprised to find both the University of Texas and UCLA groups are replicating and trying the idea out as well as adding more innovations. Where this could get to is anyone’s guess for now. But it sure looks like the liquid organic lithium ion battery is coming up on sundown. Makes one wonder who the leading suppliers of (likely synthetic) garnet are.


2 Comments so far

  1. zvibenyosef on December 21, 2016 5:43 PM

    “lithium anode can be plated dendrite-free when a cell is being charged”

    The suppression of dendrites will allow for a greater number of charge/discharge cycles. This is a winning combination together with the reduced risk of combustion. The US is a major producer of Garnet. It is not prohibitively expensive.

  2. Roseland67 on December 21, 2016 10:17 PM

    Hey humble writer,
    We have seen so many of these “next great thing”
    But rarely do any come to be manufactured.

    Please follow up on this story amigo,

    Power density
    Energy density
    Form factor requirements
    Environment limitations
    Temperature range
    Time to charge
    Expected longevity

    Keep at it, this may well be the paradigm shift from
    Lithium battery’s.

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