Why lithium-ion may rule batteries for a long time to come
Materials scientist Gerd Ceder is overseeing a research effort to extend the capabilities of the dominant form of energy storage, using a new class of compounds.
The US Department of Energy is launching a major research effort to develop a new generation of lithium-ion batteries largely free of cobalt, a rare and expensive metal delivered through an increasingly troubling supply chain.
The three-year program, part of a broader effort to accelerate advanced vehicle technologies, could eventually lead to cheaper, longer-lasting consumer gadgets, electric cars, and grid storage.
Materials scientist Gerd Ceder is overseeing one project under the research program at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, aimed at developing “disordered rock salts” as an alternative material for cathodes, the positive electrode in a rechargeable cell. Typically, the cathodes in lithium-ion batteries require cobalt to create and retain a layered structure in the electrode, which allows lithium ions to easily flow through it. But several years ago, Ceder and his colleagues found that this new class of materials could store more lithium, potentially boosting energy density while avoiding the need for cobalt entirely (see “Disordered materials hold promise for better batteries”).
The Lawrence Berkeley project as well as two at Argonne National Laboratory together received $12.5 million from the DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office.
In an interview with MIT Technology Review, Ceder discussed the challenges to ensure that the new materials work as a “drop-in” alternative for battery manufacturing, the reasons lithium-ion technology will continue to dominate storage for a long time to come—and why it takes so long for any battery advance to reach the marketplace.