94-Year-Old Li-ion Battery Inventor Discovers Faster-Charging, Noncombustible Batteries

A team at the University of Texas at Austin led by 94-year-old John Goodenough – the engineer who is widely credited for the identification and development of the lithium-ion rechargeable battery  – has discovered a new form of energy storage that is noncombustible and faster-charging than those that are currently in use.

Goodenough, who is now a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering at UT-Austin, along with Senior Research Fellow Maria Helena Braga, has  developed what the university characterizes as “the first all-solid-state battery cells that could lead to safer, faster-charging, longer-lasting rechargeable batteries for stationary energy storage, electric cars, and handheld mobile devices.”

“Cost, safety, energy density, rates of charge and discharge, and cycle life are critical for battery-driven cars to be more widely adopted. We believe our discovery solves many of the problems that are inherent in today’s batteries,” Goodenough said in a statement released by UT-Austin.

As the researchers demonstrated – and reported in the journal, Energy & Environmental Science (Issue 1/2017) – their new battery cells have at least three times as much energy density as today’s lithium-ion batteries. A battery cell’s energy density gives an electric vehicle its driving range, so a higher energy density means that a car can drive more miles between charges.

The -Austin battery formulation also allows for a greater number of charging and discharging cycles, which equates to longer-lasting batteries, as well as a faster rate of recharge (e.g., minutes rather than hours). In experiments, the researchers’ cells have demonstrated more than 1,200 cycles with low cell resistance.

One of the problems with current lithium-ion batteries is that they tend to burst into flames without warning. That’s because today’s lithium-ion batteries use liquid electrolytes to transport the lithium ions between the anode (the negative side of the battery) and the cathode (the positive side of the battery). If a battery cell is charged too quickly, it can form dendrites or “metal whiskers” in the liquid electrolytes, causing a short circuit that can lead to explosions and fires.

Instead of liquid electrolytes, the new battery relies on glass electrolytes that enable the use of an alkali-metal anode without the formation of dendrites.

Another advantage is that the battery cells can be made from earth-friendly materials. “The glass electrolytes allow for the substitution of low-cost sodium for lithium. Sodium is extracted from seawater that is widely available,” Braga explained.

Goodenough and Braga are continuing to advance their battery-related research and are working on several patents. In the short term, they hope to work with battery makers to develop and test their new materials in electric vehicles and energy storage devices.

This research has been supported by UT-Austin, but there are no grants associated with this work. The UT-Austin Office of Technology Commercialization is actively negotiating license agreements with multiple companies engaged in a variety of battery-related industry segments.

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