Energy Storage From Thin Air: You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet
If you thought the energy storage market was all steamed up, fasten your seatbelt. A new research breakthrough from the University of Illinois at Chicago finally delivers some good news for fans of lithium-air technology, which energy storage researchers have been talking up as the next best thing to follow today’s gold standard, lithium-ion.
Why Lithium-Air Energy Storage Is So Hard
Lithium air energy storage happens when lithium combines with oxygen in the air to form lithium peroxide, and back again. In other words, lithium peroxide is created when the battery discharges, and then broken back down into lithium and oxygen when the battery is charged.
Until now, though, the term “lithium-air” has been a bit of a misnomer. That’s because lithium-air batteries as configured currently don’t really use oxygen from the air, they use pure oxygen.
That creates problems when you’re trying to design a better battery for an electric vehicle. Unless you have a medical condition requiring oxygen, who wants to drive around with oxygen tanks in the back seat?
Here’s the explainer from the UIC, which worked with Argonne National Laboratory on the new battery research:
Unfortunately, experimental designs of such lithium-air batteries have been unable to operate in a true natural-air environment due to the oxidation of the lithium anode and production of undesirable byproducts on the cathode that result from lithium ions combining with carbon dioxide and water vapor in the air.
I know, right? As air enters the battery, the byproducts collect on the cathode, eventually rendering it useless.
A Better Lithium-Air Battery
For their new battery, the researchers came up with a new formula. The lithium anode is coated with a layer of lithium carbonate, which enables lithium ions to pass through without allowing other “unwanted compounds” to make contact.