Better Batteries are on Their Way

Two new innovations at JCESR help push the next generation of batteries forward.

To try and meet the constantly increasing demand for energy storage, the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) has been developing new battery technology.  The goal is to create products that will have five times the energy density at one-fifth the cost of 2012 batteries.  To do that, JCESR has been researching metal anode batteries that would replace the lithium-ion batteries that are in our phones, computers, and many other rechargeable devices.

Why does this Matter?

Lithium- ion (Li-ion) batteries have been an extremely popular rechargeable battery due to their relatively large energy density compared to other rechargeable batteries like a lead-acid car battery.  But to meet current demands (and the goals that JCESR set itself) researchers have turned to batteries with metal anodes, as opposed to the graphite anodes common in Li-ion batteries. Researchers found that when using Magnesium metal for Magnesium-ion (Mg-ion) batteries and Lithium for Lithium-Sulfur (Li-S) batteries, they were able to achieve even higher energy densities than traditional Li-ion batteries.

The focus on energy density is especially important for the future of electric cars.  In cars like the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, or even the Chevy Volt, the battery is the largest, heaviest, and most expensive part.  Batteries with higher energy densities would make these cars lighter— and so require less energy to drive— and less expensive— becoming less of a luxury and more feasible for more people.

Improved Magnesium Batteries

Metal anode batteries work by stripping ions from the metal side (the anode) into an electrolyte when discharging, and then plating those ions back to the metal when re-charging.  Current magnesium metal anode batteries have difficulty in the plating phase of this process: not succeeding in replacing 100% of the previously dissolved ions.  This means that the battery will not be able to store as much energy the next time around.  As these batteries are being designed to be used in electric cars and consumer electronics, the batteries need to maintain the same capacities for as long as possible. 

JCESR believes they have made a huge breakthrough with this plating problem.  They have been able to gain understanding at the atomic level of the process and thus to identify new electrolytes that should be able to replace these ions much more efficiently.

New Lithium Technology

Li-S battery technology is farther along than magnesium-ion, but still faces a major hurdle.  After multiple charge and discharge cycles, the surface of the lithium anode develops fibers called dendrites that eventually shut-down the battery. JCESR development of new imaging techniques to observe the the formation of these dendrites directly has allowed them to find an electrolyte additive that prevents dendrites from forming. 

In both of these cases researchers have been able to identify new electrolytes that work better to connect anode and cathode.  These breakthroughs have allowed them to harness the theoretical benefits of metal anodes and bring this battery technology into the next generation of development.  This has profound implications for the future of everything from smart grids to cell phones.

Clean Energy Trust is proud to partner with JCESR and provide interactive support for the future of battery technology in our growing clean energy ecosystem.

Advanced battery technology offers a dynamic option as an innovative, multi-scale solution that promotes the expansion of clean energy across industries. As a JCESR partner organization, Clean Energy Trust leverages its position in the ecosystem to engage strategic stakeholders and seed pathways for commercialization of breakthrough battery innovations.

By Alex Foucault | August 19, 2015