Researchers at MIT and Sandia National Laboratory have discovered something that's never before been observed in lithium-air batteries and it could pave the way for the technology to emerge as a commercially viable solution for electric vehicles of the future.
Still Crude...But an Improvement
Lithium-air, which is touted for its ability to potentially offer up to 10 times the storage capacity of today's lithium-ion batteries, could be what's needed to take electric vehicles to the next level.
Up 'til now, progress in lithium-air research has been slow. However, the researchers seem to have found a flaw in the technology and fixing this could lead to a breakthrough.
Now is when we turn it over to the experts at IEEE Spectrum for analysis of this potential breakthrough:
"The MIT and Sandia National Lab researchers, in work that was published the ACS journal Nano Letters (“In Situ Transmission Electron Microscopy Observations of Electrochemical Oxidation of Li2O2), used transmission electron microscope (TEM) to peer into one of the trouble spots in the further development of these batteries: the reaction known as oxygen evolution."
"It was in this reaction that the researchers observed for the first time the oxidation of lithium peroxide, which is the byproduct material created during the discharge of a lithium-air battery. The observations revealed that the lithium peroxide forms primarily at the interface of the substrate, which is made of multiwalled carbon nanotubes."
"In this location, the lithium peroxide acts as resistance to the flow of electrons and handicaps the charging of batteries. However, the researchers also discovered that during charging, when the electrons are passing through the carbon nanotubes, the lithium peroxide particles that had formed during discharge began to shrink. This means that if electron transport for these batteries can be improved these batteries could be made to charge much more quickly than previously had been thought."
Jie Xiao, a researcher at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, adds this to the discussion:
"This work has identified the key limiting condition, electron transport … providing a critical contribution."
While there's still no guarantee that lithium-air batteries will ever emerge commercially, it's miniscule breakthroughs such as this that typically lead to additional research that someday results in a working prototype and then a full production component. At least we hope.
Source: IEEE Spectrum