Solid State Lithium-Ion Batteries On The Horizon

Lithium-ion batteries - solid state electrolyte

Solid state Lithium-ion batteries offer a safer method of energy storage, but solid state electrolyte use has been limited by the poor conductive nature of such materials – perhaps that’s about to change.

A group of researchers have developed a new approach to solid-state electrolytes that would not only be safer, but improve energy density and enable Lithium-ion batteries to perform in lower temperatures.

You wouldn’t dream of hitting a lithium-ion battery with a hammer (we hope you wouldn’t anyway), but professor of materials science and engineering Gerbrand Ceder says the team’s approach will be a real game-changer.

“All of the fires you’ve seen, with Boeing, Tesla, and others, they are all electrolyte fires,” stated the Professor. “The lithium itself is not flammable in the state it’s in in these batteries. [With a solid electrolyte] there’s no safety problem — you could throw it against the wall, drive a nail through it — there’s nothing there to burn.”

As we mentioned yesterday, while fires are rare in Lithium-ion batteries, they can and do happen. Worse still, Li-ion batteries experiencing thermal runaway have been known to result in explosions. It’s this volatility that means it’s not a great idea to leave your cell phone charging overnight.

The team’s initial research has indicated superionic lithium-ion conductors; compounds of lithium, germanium, phosphorus, and sulfur, are up to the task of creating solid state electrolyte and with further investigation, even more effective materials may be identified.

Solid-state electrolyte will also allow for  a 20 to 30 percent improvement in power density – enabling a significant boost in capacity to everything from cell phones to home battery storage units.

The research is part of an alliance between MIT and the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology. The work to date has been reported in the journal Nature Materials.

Last year, researchers at Sakti3, a spinout of the University of Michigan, claimed to have developed a solid state electrolyte lithium-ion battery that could double energy density for 20% of the cost. Details of the materials and construction of such a battery have not yet been released.

The race to develop a commercially viable solid state Lithium-ion battery continues – and for the winner who brings such a product to market first, it could mean billions of dollars.