Lithium air or more technically, lithium-oxygen batteries have two challenging issues surrounding lithium-oxygen batteries that chemists from the University of Waterloo have successfully resolved. The research result is creating a working battery with near 100 percent coulombic efficiency.

The new work, which appeared this week in Science, proves that four-electron conversion for lithium-oxygen electrochemistry is highly reversible. The team is the first to achieve four-electron conversion, which doubles the electron storage of lithium-oxygen, also more commonly known as lithium-air batteries.

Linda Nazar, Canada Research Chair of Solid State Energy Materials and senior author on the project said, “There are limitations based on thermodynamics. Nevertheless, our work has addressed fundamental issues that people have been trying to resolve for a long time.”

The high theoretical-energy density of lithium-oxygen (Li-O2) batteries and their relatively light weight have made them the Holy Grail of rechargeable battery systems. But long-standing issues with the battery’s chemistry and stability have kept them a purely academic curiosity.

Two of the more serious issues involve the intermediate of the cell chemistry (superoxide, LiO2) and the peroxide product (Li2O2) reacting with the porous carbon cathode, degrading the cell from within. In addition, the superoxide consumes the organic electrolyte in the process, which greatly limits the cycle life.

Nazar and her colleagues switched the organic electrolyte to a more stable inorganic molten salt and the porous carbon cathode to a bifunctional metal oxide catalyst. Then by operating the battery at 150 degrees C, they found that the more stable product Li2O is formed instead of Li2O2. This results in a highly reversible Li-oxygen battery with coulombic efficiency approaching 100 percent.

By storing O2 as lithium oxide (Li2O) instead of lithium peroxide (Li2O2), the battery not only maintained excellent charging characteristics, it achieved the maximum four-electron transfer in the system, thereby increasing the theoretical energy storage by 50 percent.

“By swapping out the electrolyte and the electrode host and raising the temperature, we show the system performs remarkably well,” said Nazar, who is also a University Research Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Waterloo.

This is progress. 150 degrees C is about 300 F, well below a lot of materials combustion temperature and still cool enough for some polymers. The drawback is getting the battery warmed up and keeping it warm. That’s a problem that will likely find a solution one day too.


1 Comment so far

  1. ROseland67 on August 29, 2018 7:29 AM

    Can the battey operate at ambient temp
    while heating up to optimum temp?

    Or does it have to start at 300°F to function?

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