Global Technology - April 2018

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Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory recently reported in the journal Naturethat they have designed a new lithium-air battery that works in a natural-air environment and still functioned after a record-breaking 750 charge/discharge cycles.

This lithium-air battery design represents a revolution in the battery community.  Why?  Because practical lithium-air batteries should to be able to hold up to five times more energy than the lithium-ion batteries that commonly power today’s phones, laptops and electric vehicles

The UIC-Argonne work is the first demonstration of a true lithium-air battery and it represents an important step beyond lithium-ion’ batteries. But there is still more to do in order to commercialize it.

Lithium-air batteries have been tantalizing to battery researchers for years. But several obstacles have plagued their development.

During the discharge phase, the batteries would work by combining lithium present in the anode with oxygen from the air to produce lithium peroxide on the cathode. During the charge phase, the lithium peroxide needs to be broken back down into its lithium and oxygen components.

Unfortunately, experimental designs of such lithium-air batteries have been unable to operate in a true natural-air environment due to oxidation of the lithium anode and production of undesirable byproducts on the cathode, which result from lithium ions combining with carbon dioxide and water vapor in the air. These byproducts gum up the cathode, which eventually becomes completely coated and unable to function. As a result, previous experimental batteries have relied on tanks of pure oxygen, which limits their practicality and poses serious safety risks due to the fire hazard created by pure oxygen.  The previous tests of lithium-air battery cells failed because of poor cycle life.

The UIC-Argonne research team overcame these challenges by using a unique combination of anode, cathode and electrolyte to prevent anode oxidation and buildup of battery-killing byproducts on the cathode.  This allowed the battery to operate in a natural-air environment.

The researchers coated the lithium anode with a thin layer of lithium carbonate...

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