New rechargeable lithium-glass batteries charge in minutes and last longer, tripling the range electric cars can travel.
While some technology advances blaze ahead, others innovations like batteries languish in a sea of good enough. The lithium-ion battery technology used in today’s laptops, drones and electric cars, for example, dates back to the mid-1980s.
But thanks to 94-year-old John Goodenough and his team of engineers, the wait for a next-gen power cell may soon be over.
“We believe our discovery solves many of the problems that are inherent in today’s batteries,” said Goodenough, a Cockrell School of Engineering professor and something of a legend in battery research.
He is the co-inventor of the lithium-ion battery and, through his pioneering work, he created the popular rechargeable battery now commonly used in consumer electronics and electric vehicles.
Now Goodenough and his team of engineers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed the first lithium-glass battery. These entirely solid cells could lead to safer, faster-charging, longer-lasting rechargeable batteries for handheld mobile devices and electric cars.
Lithium-glass not only triples the energy density of lithium-ion, it also recharges in minutes, withstands thousands of charging cycles, performs well in subzero degree weather, and won’t catch fire like lithium-ion batteries.
The researchers demonstrated that the new lithium-glass battery cells have at least three times as much energy density as lithium-ion batteries. Higher cell energy density means that electric vehicles can drive more miles between charges.
Tripling an electric vehicle’s range from what it is now would put it in the realm of gasoline-powered cars, which could help this growing earth-friendly market take off.
“I think we have the possibility of doing what we’ve been trying to do for the last 20 years,” said Goodenough in IEEE Spectrum. “That is, to get an electric car that will be competitive in cost and convenience with the internal combustion engine.”
The lithium-glass battery formulation also allows for a greater number of charging and discharging cycles, which equates to longer-lasting batteries, as well as a faster recharging time (minutes rather than hours). For mobile phone users, it may mean less time spent tethered to a wall outlet.
Key to the new battery cell is the use of solid glass electrolytes instead of liquid electrolytes, which are common in rechargeable batteries. Liquid electrolytes transport lithium ions between the anode (the negative side of the battery) and the cathode (the positive side of the battery), which conducts electricity. If a liquid battery cell is charged too quickly, it can short circuit and cause fires. Glass electrolytes have a low risk of short circuiting, making it a safer option.
Glass electrolytes also use sustainable materials, allowing “for the substitution of low-cost sodium for lithium. Sodium is extracted from seawater that is widely available,” making it an eco-friendly battery option, said co-researcher Maria Helena Braga, a Cockrell School senior research fellow.
While alternatives have been teased (such as hydrogen and lithium-sulfur), lithium-ion and lithium-polymer remain the go-to technologies for use in laptops, smartphones and, increasingly, electric cars.
The research is promising, but it may be a few years before the new technology is introduced to the commercial marketplace.