Researchers at Deakin University in Australia say they have managed to use common industrial polymers to make solid electrolytes, potentially doubling the energy density of lithium-ion batteries, which do not explode or catch fire when overheated.
Dr. Fang Fang Chen and Dr. Wang Xiaon of the Frontier Materials Institute at Deakin University claim to have made the breakthrough, calling it “the first clear and useful example of liquid-free, efficient lithium-ion transport ation in the scientific community.”
The new technology uses a solid polymer material that is weakly bound to lithium ions to replace volatile liquid solvents commonly used as electrolytes in current cell cells. “If the industry adopts our technology, I can foresee a future in which, for example, battery-related equipment can be safely packed in aircraft luggage, or electric vehicles will not pose a fire hazard to crew or first responders as they do now,” Dr. Chen said in a press release. “
In addition to making the battery safer, the team believes the solid polymer electrolyte will eventually enable the battery to work with lithium metal anodes. This will be big news in the battery world, with the research team recently describing lithium anodes in Trend in Chemistry as “the key to breaking the current energy density bottleneck in lithium-ion chemistry” – a bottleneck that was previously thought to prevent electric cars, airplanes and portable electronics from developing at the speed they should be.
Dr Wang said this could be a way to double the energy density of lithium batteries, which currently peaks at about 250 Wh/ kg in a commercial environment (e.g. in the Tesla Model 3 battery pack). Raising it to 500 Wh / kg can increase the range, or use a smaller, cheaper and lighter battery pack.
The Deakin team says it uses only existing commercial polymers in new technologies, meaning industrial production should be able to do so “easily”. The team has been tested in the coin cell, which is the size of a watch battery, but the team is now working on a battery that can be used on a phone, and once installed and running, they will be looking for business partners to bring the solid-state batteries to market.
The paper on the study has been published in the journal Joule.