Lithium-air batteries are one of those technologies that could be truly revolutionary. With a theoretical maximum energy storage capacity 10 times greater than your garden variety lithium-ion battery, lithium-air batteries could be much smaller and lighter but still provide a huge range. How’s 500-700 miles per charge for you?
Unfortunately, as is usually the case with these sorts of things, the lithium-air revolution has hurdles aplenty. But fortunately, lithium-air batteries have some big guns doing research on them. For instance, IBM has been doing research on lithium-air batteries for the better part of a decade.
And just this week, scientists at MIT have announced that when they substituted gold and platinum for the standard carbon electrodes in lithium-air cells, they were able to obtain much higher efficiencies. The find was significant enough for MIT to claim that their research could lead to lithium-air batteries with 3 times the energy density of lithium-ion. That alone would be a big step forward.
One of the other main hurdles to lithium-air batteries is the fact that they could be extremely explosive. Lithium-ion batteries are already dangerous enough due to the flammable nature of metallic lithium. But because lithium-ion batteries are made of inorganic materials and are not exposed to air, the safety issue has been largely dealt with at this point.
But lithium-air batteries, by the nature of their being filled with, uh, air, are much more susceptible to the runaway reaction that can cause lithium-based batteries to explode. But professor Shao-Horn says that this issue can be dealt with in lithium-air batteries by using a form of lithium other than metallic lithium. Lithium-air batteries are also currently not very durable, only withstanding a limited number of charge and discharge cycles before degrading beyond usability.
Like I said, it’s not a sure thing by any means and potentially revolutionary research is not for those with lack of vision. As Shao-Horn says, “It’s a very promising area, but there are many science and engineering challenges to be overcome.” There’s an understatement for the ages.
Source & Image Credit: MIT