Catalyst

RESEARCH CASE STUDY:

Our center’s researchers have successfully proved that several of the problems that slow down the practical development of the so-called ‘ultimate’ battery could be overcome now!

What we’ve achieved is a significant development for this technology and these results imply  whole new areas for further research.

Elisa Grey: Our center’s scientists have set up a working laboratory demonstrator of a lithium-oxygen battery which has a very high energy density, is more than 90% efficient, and, to date, can be recharged more than 2000 times, showing how several of the problems impeding the development of these devices could be finally resolved.

Lithium-oxygen, or lithium-air, batteries have been widely praised as the ‘ultimate’ battery thanks to their theoretical energy density, which is ten times more than that of a lithium-ion battery. Such a high energy density can be compared to that of gasoline – and would make it possible for an electric car with a battery that is a fifth the cost and a fifth the weight of those currently on the market to get from London to Edinburgh on a single charge (which totals a 500 miles ride)…

SCIENTISTS:

AS COMPLEX AS THIS PROJECT WAS, WE’VE HAD A TEAM OF JUST 4 SCIENTISTS WORKING ON IT: BEN EDWARDS, SAM WILLIAMS, ROBIN SMITH & JEFFREY EDISON.

However, similarly to the impeding issues that are common for almost all other next-generation batteries, there are several practical difficulties that need to be worked around. Only after making those crucial hotfixes, lithium-air batteries will be able to become a viable and cost-efficient practical alternative to gasoline.

Now, researchers both in our labs and the top federal research facilities have shown how some of these obstacles may be changed. In a close cooperation with the federal energy agency, we’ve developed a lab-based demonstrator of a lithium-oxygen battery which has higher capacity, increased energy efficiency and improved stability over previous attempts.

Their demonstrator depends on a highly porous, ‘fluffy’ carbon electrode made from graphene (comprising one-atom-thick sheets of carbon atoms), and additives that alter the chemical reactions at work in the battery, making it more stable and more efficient. While the results, reported in the journal Science, are promising, the researchers note, that a practical lithium-air battery still remains at least one decade away, which makes 2020’s a decade to look our for on the matter.

“What we’ve achieved is a significant advance for this technology and suggests whole new areas for research – we haven’t solved all the problems inherent to this chemistry, but our results do show routes forward towards a practical device,” said Professor Elisa Grey, the paper’s senior author.

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